Game with letters – The New York Times

SUNDAY PUZZLE – this is one of those Sunday boards where reading Will Shortz’s introduction before solving affects the experience. She writes: “Tina Labadie lives in London, Ontario. This is her first crossword puzzle with the New York Times. It comes with one of my favorite types of themes – it offers many different ahas. The example on 118-Across, at the bottom of the puzzle, is a little different than the others, like a joke kicker. As a construction pattern, each letter of the alphabet shall be used at least once in the completed grid. “

This kind of praise sets the bar high on any puzzle, let alone debut, and today’s slow theme burner doesn’t disappoint. I finally got to those “ahas”, but it wasn’t until the few “oh” moments where I was worried that I was missing something. A little bit of tension makes the solution even better.

47A. Tips like today’s – “World War I helmet, informal” – outnumber the “Stereotypical paranoid garment” clue that could also define this entry by 16 to 1 in the Times crossword. I still think of conspiracy fans when I see TIN HAT (or “The Wizard of Oz”!).

79A. “Google ___” can fix several problems: “Docs” or “Applications” are possible, and a valid MAPS entry is also possible. It is a tool that I often use to double-check tidbits of difficult geography – today I drew a complete void about IBAdan, Nigeria’s third largest city, and SIDRA Bay.

101A. This is slightly foggy tip. “Crystal-clear” made me think of something easy to understand before thinking about something actually transparent or TRANSPARENT, like a calm swimming pool. It’s such a reassuring word, isn’t it? Every possible definition – balanced mood, clear tone of the instrument – is neutral and relaxed.

3D. I am impressed with anyone who receives this tip straight away; I needed crosses. “Jazz singer born as Eunice Kathleen Waymon” is NINA SIMONE who, when she started singing in bars, chose her own stage name to avoid trouble with her mother.

19D. The “introductory course” sounds academic, but it is a culinary reference to SAŁAT.

61D. This is one of a few fill tips that I thought could be in a theme pack. “They are filled with X” could refer to the letter X, the Roman number 10, or perhaps a very lucrative treasure map. I did not expect BALLOTS, which can actually be marked with crosses. (Although it seems risky.)

This is another theme with paired entries – we saw a few recently and they add a nice layer of deduction to the solution, even if the two entries are linked in clues or in a digital puzzle presentation. There are six pairs of themes in the theme pack, and they are all great examples of the “letter game” as the title of the puzzle suggests. There’s also a neat number component that I didn’t notice until I looked through things a second time.

You will likely encounter and solve thematic entries in random order – you certainly will. The first one I knew for sure was the 42-Across, “Beer Named After the Founding Father” aka SAM ADAMS and which I assumed was just a normal, innocuous filling. This tip is quite close to the paired entry, which is 52-Across: “DST Start Time … or Hint to 42-Across”. Nothing hit me there. I came to 90-Across, “The Farm Kids’ Club … or a clue to 97-Across,” and thought it had to be “4-H”. If the entry was not five letters long, I would probably try HHHH; instead I sat on it for a while and tried 97-Across, “Secretive”. Due to several intersecting letters, I entered this entry correctly: SILENCE-SZUK. Or I realized SZUSZ-SZUSZ – these four Hs must mean something.

Due to the placement of OAHU, QUIT and JACUZZI, I came up with 27-Across on. “Website visitor, in analytical jargon” is a UNIQUE USER. His companion clue is 71-Across, “23. in the series… or a tip to 27-Across ”. We’re dealing with “Letterplay” so the series that comes to mind is naturally alphabetical, but what does “In”(23rd letter) dealing with the entry on 27-Across? Aha – UNIQUE USER contains two U or DOUBLE U.

DOUBLE U got me to know how to answer 68-Across: “Highest Credit Rating… or a prompt to 25-Across.” This credit rating (for corporate bonds) is AAA or TRIPLE A. What could this have to do with 25-Across, “Not true?” Thank you, crosses! This one only made sense when I reverse engineered it; a line that is “untrue” or straight might be ANDT. ANDN ANDNGLE. Here are your TRIPLE A.

What about 90-Across? “Quadruple” doesn’t fit; the entry is FOUR H. What about 52-Across that “DST start time …”? It is TWO AM, referring to the TWO AM’s in S.I AM ANNOUNCEMENTI AMS.

There are two more examples – one perfect pair of puns at 89 and 115 across, and a variation at 54 and 118 across – that mark the boundaries of the number sequence. (His almost sequence, anyway. Missing “one” or “single” and instead goes ZERO – TWO – DOUBLE – TRIPLE – FOUR – FIVE.) The entry ZERO is the coup de grâce. 54-Across, “Weightlessness … or clue to 118-Across,” is ZERO G. 118-Across is “A Home Run Baseball Commentator Call.” What are they saying? – He’s from here? In this case it is a more suspenseful statement that with ZERO G it sounds like OIN OIN ONE.

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