Letter Game – The New York Times

SUNDAY PUZZLES: This is one of those Sunday grids where reading Will Shortz’s printed introduction before solving it takes a toll on the experience. He writes: “Tina Labadie lives in London, Ontario. This is her first New York Times crossword puzzle. She has one of my favorite types of themes: one that offers a lot of different ‘ahas’. The example in 118-Across, at the bottom of the puzzle, is a bit different from the others, like the kick of a joke. As a stimulus for construction, each letter of the alphabet is used at least once in the entire grid.

That kind of praise sets a high bar for any puzzler, let alone a debut, and today’s slow-cooked theme doesn’t disappoint. I finally got to those “ahas,” but not before several “uh-oh” moments when I worried I was missing something. A little suspense makes the solution even better.

47A. Clues like today’s, “World War I helmet, informally,” outnumber a clue like “stereotypical clothing for paranoids,” which may also define this entry, by 16 to 1 in the Times crossword puzzle. I still think of conspiracy fans when I see TIN HAT (or “The Wizard of Oz”!).

79A. “Google ___” might solve a few things: “Documents” or “applications” are possible, as well as the correct entry, MAPS. This is a tool I often use to check difficult geographical trivia: today I drew a blank on IBADAN, the third largest city in Nigeria, and the Gulf of SIDRA.

101A. This is a slightly hazy track. “Crystal-clear” made me think of something easy to understand before thinking of something really transparent, or CLEAR, like a still pool. This is such a reassuring word, isn’t it? Every possible definition, a balanced mood, the clear tone of an instrument, is neutral and relaxed.

3D. I’m impressed by anyone who gets a track like this right away; I needed crosses. The “jazz singer born Eunice Kathleen Waymon” is NINA SIMONE, who she chose her own alias, when she started singing in bars, to avoid getting in trouble with her mother.

19D. “Introductory course” sounds academic, but it is a culinary reference to SALADS.

61D. This is one of several tracks in the filler that I thought might be in the theme set. “They are full of X” could refer to the letter X, the Roman numeral 10, or possibly a very lucrative treasure map. I did not expect BALLOTS, which, in fact, can be marked with crosses. (Seems risky, though.)

This is another topic with paired entries; we’ve seen a few of these lately and they add a nice layer of deduction to the solve, even when the two inputs are connected in the clues or in the digital puzzle presentation. There are six pairs in the theme set, and all are excellent examples of “Letterplay”, as the title of the puzzle indicates. There’s also a clear numerical component that I didn’t notice until I went through things a second time.

You’ll probably come across and solve topic entries in random order, I certainly did. The first I knew for sure was at 42-Across, “Beer Named For A Founding Father” which is SAM ADAMS and which I assumed was normal, innocuous filler. This clue is quite close to its paired entry, which is 52-Across: “DST start time… or a clue for 42-Across.” Nothing caught my eye there. I got to 90-Across, “Farm Boys Club… or a 97-Across track,” and I thought it had to be “4-H.” If the input hadn’t been five letters long, I probably would have tried HHHH; instead I sat down for a while and tried 97-Across, “Secretive”. Due to some letter crossings, I hit this entry: HUSH-HUSH. Oh, I realized SILENCE — those four H’s must mean something.

Due to the location of OAHU, QUIT and JACUZZI, I discovered 27-Across below. “Visitor of a website, in analytical jargon”, is SINGLE USER. His companion hint is at 71-Across, “23 in a series…or a hint for 27-Across”. We’re dealing with “Letterplay”, so the series that comes to mind is naturally alphabetic, but what does “W” (the letter 23) has to do with the entry in 27-Across? Aha: SINGLE USER contains two U or one DOUBLE U.

DOUBLE U had me tuned in on how to answer 68-Across: “Maximum credit rating… or a hint for 25-Across.” That credit rating (for corporate bonds) is AAA, or TRIPLE A. What could that have to do with 25-Across, “Not true”? Thanks crosses! This one made sense only when I reversed it; a line that is “not true” or straight, could be AT Anorth AANGLE. There are your TRIPLE A’s.

So what about 90-Across? “Quadruple” does not fit; the entrance is FOUR H. And what about 52-Across, that “daylight saving time start time…”? That’s TWO AM, referring to the TWO “AM” in SAM ADAMs.

There are two more examples, an excellent pair of puns at 89 and 115 wide and a variation at 54 and 118 wide, which mark the limits of the number sequence. (Their almost a sequence, anyway. Missing “one” or “single” and instead says ZERO – TWO – DOUBLE – TRIPLE – FOUR – FIVE.) That ZERO entry is a knockout. 54-Across, “Weightlessness…or a hint of 118-Across”, is ZERO G. 118-Across is “The call of the baseball announcer on a home run.” What is that they say? “Is he out of here?” In this case, it’s a more suspenseful statement that, with ZERO G, says OIN OIN ONE.

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