Word Game – The New York Times

SUNDAY PUZZLE – This is one of those Sunday puzzles where reading Will Shortz’s printed introduction before solving affects the experience. He writes: “Tina Labadie lives in London, Ontario. This is his first New York Times crossword puzzle. It has one of my favorite types of themes – one that offers lots of different “ahs”. The example at 118-Across, at the bottom of the puzzle, is a bit different from the others, like a joke kicker. To give construction a boost, each letter of the alphabet is used at least once in the completed grid.

This kind of praise sets the bar high for any puzzle, let alone a start, and the slow burner of a today’s theme doesn’t disappoint. I finally got to those “has”, but not until several “uh-oh” moments where I worried I was missing something. A bit of suspense makes the resolution even better.

47A. Clues like today’s – “WW I helmet, unofficially” – outnumber a clue like “Stereotypical wear and tear for the paranoid”, which can also define this entry, by 16 to 1 in the crossword of the Times. I still think of conspiracy fans when I see TIN HAT (or “The Wizard of Oz”!).

79A. “Google ___” might solve a few problems: “Docs” or “apps” are possible, as well as the correct entry, MAPS. It’s a tool I often use to double-check difficult geographical anecdotes – today I did a total vacuum on IBADAN, Nigeria’s third largest city, and the Gulf of SIDRA.

101A. It’s a slightly foggy index. “Crystal-clear” made me think of something easy to understand before thinking of something really transparent, or CLEAR, like a quiet swimming pool. It’s such a soothing word, isn’t it? Every possible definition – a balanced mood, the clear tone of an instrument – is neutral and relaxed.

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

19D. “Introductory Course” sounds academic, but it’s a culinary reference to SALADS.

61D. This is one of many hints in the padding that I thought might be in the theme set. “They’re filled with Xs” could refer to the letter X, the Roman numeral 10, or possibly a very lucrative treasure map. I did not expect BALLOTS, which can, indeed, be marked with crosses. (Sounds risky, though.)

This is another theme with paired entries – we’ve seen a few of these recently, and they add a nice layer of deduction to the solving, even when the two entries are connected in clues or in the number puzzle presentation. There are six pairs in the theme set, and they’re all great examples of “Letterplay,” as the title of the puzzle suggests. There’s also a neat digital component that I didn’t notice until I reviewed things a second time.

You’ll probably encounter and solve theme entries in random order – I certainly did. The first one I knew for sure was at 42-Across, “Beer Named After a Founding Father”, which is SAM ADAMS and which I assumed was a normal harmless filler. This clue happens to be quite close to its paired entry, which is 52-Across: “DST start time…or a clue of 42-Across.” Nothing struck me there. I came to 90-Across, “Club for the Farm Kids…or a clue to 97-Across,” and thought it must be “4-H.” If the input hadn’t been five letters, I probably would have tried HHHH; instead, I sat on it for a bit and tried 97-Across, “Secretive.” Because of a few crossed letters, I understood this entry correctly: HUSH-HUSH. Or, I realised, hush-hush — those four Hs must mean something.

Due to the placement of OAHU, QUIT and JACUZZI, I figured out 27-Across next. “Visitor of a website, in analytical jargon”, is UNIQUE USER. Its companion index is at 71-Across, “23rd in a series…or an index at 27-Across.” We are dealing with “Letterplay”, so the series that comes to mind is naturally alphabetical, but what is “O” (the 23rd letter) has to do with the entry at 27-Across? Aha – UNIQUE USER contains two U’s or a DOUBLE U.

DOUBLE U let me know how to respond to 68-Across: “Better credit…or a hint at 25-Across.” This credit rating (for corporate bonds) is AAA, or TRIPLE A. What could that have to do with 25-Across, “Right?” Thank you, cross! This one only made sense when I reverse-engineered it; a line that is “not true”, or straight, can be AJ ANOT ANGLE. There are your TRIPLE A’s.

So what about 90-Across? “Quadruple” is not suitable; the entrance is FOUR H. And what about 52-Across, that “daylight saving start time…”? It is TWO AM, referring to the TWO “AM” in SA M ADA MS

There are two other examples – an excellent pair of puns at 89 and 115-Across and a variation at 54- and 118-Across – which make the limits of the numerical sequence. (His almost a sequence, anyway. Missing “one” or “single”, and instead, ZERO – TWO – DOUBLE – TRIPLE – FOUR – FIVE.) This ZERO entry is a knockout. 54-Across, “Weightlessness…or an index of 118-Across,” is ZERO G. 118-Across is “the baseball announcer’s call on a home run.” what do they say? “Is it out of here?” In this case, it’s a more suspenseful statement, which along with ZERO G reads, OIN OIN ONE.

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