December 5, 2023

Jump to: Tricky Clues | Today’s Theme

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Dylan Schiff is a middle school science teacher in Delaware whose extracurricular activities include cooking, bowling, watching game shows and editing Sporcle quizzes. After a very clever Thursday debut in 2021 and a Wednesday grid last year, this is his Sunday debut. Mr. Schiff writes, “My students and fellow faculty members still can’t get over the fact that real-life people — let alone someone they know — design crosswords!”

I love how this theme unravels. I went from having no idea what any of the circled letters could possibly represent to guessing a couple of them without looking at their expository clues, which I always get a kick out of.

There are four pairs of theme clues in this puzzle: One half of each clue appears in the top half of the grid as a visual pun involving circled letters, and the other half, once you find it at the bottom half of the grid, is explanatory. All four are basic technology expressions, but they’re depicted in a variety of silly ways — hence the puzzle’s title, “Computer Games.”

I recoiled slightly at the first example, which occurs at 22- and 65-Across, because of how the pun was presented. The clue for 22-Across is “Derby, for one”; the answer is HATE MAIL, with the letters E-M-A-I-L in circles. I initially read this entry as “hate email,” of which I’m not a fan, but fortunately I found clarification at 65-Across, “What a paper clip may indicate online … as represented in 22-Across.” This appeased me: “Derby, for one” is a HAT, with an EMAIL ATTACHMENT.

All of the pairs are clever, but my favorite is also probably the trickiest, pairing 59- and 109-Across. 59-Across — “Ancient manuscripts discovered in the Qumran Caves” — is THE DEA EA SCROLLS. Um, what? In this case, there are three circled letters running vertically, starting with the first letter “A,” and then the “D” in 53A and then the “S” in 49A. This is how you get all the letters you need for THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS. 109-Across provides the rationale here: “Browser annoyances … as represented in 59-Across” is POP-UP ADS.

44A. What a funny bit of trivia. Did you remember the title of this particular song, “‘___ for Tinhorns’ (‘Guys and Dolls’ number)”? My theater-kid days are too long ago, I fear, so I think of it as “I Got a Horse Right Here.” FUGUE sounds serious to me, but technically it is any piece that involves multiple voices repeating a theme, so this upbeat ditty fits the bill.

79A. “Medical attendants at boxing matches” are CUTMEN, and they come with encouraging statements, bandages and a little something called adrenaline chloride, which helps stop stubborn bleeding in time for the next round, hopefully.

113A. “Tours with?” is a skillful language pun. No travel required, but un peu de Français: In Tours, France, “with” is AVEC.

48D. This is the first appearance in the puzzle for this “Longtime host of Food Network’s ‘Chopped,’” TED ALLEN. I pictured him instantly but could not think of his name.

67D. “Ptolemy was one, famously,” refers to an interesting factoid that certainly wasn’t famous enough for me. Ptolemy was an early ASTROLOGER and wrote an influential treatise on the topic in the second century A.D., although he did not suggest that one’s entire fate was written in the stars.

After getting bombarded by a barrage of pop-up ads in late 2021, I thought, “How can I recreate this in a crossword puzzle?” What does it say about the abundance and persistence of online marketing that I started viewing it as the potential basis for a crossword theme? I spent a few months brainstorming ideas, put it on hold and then came back to it with fresh eyes in March 2023. At that point, I expanded my brainstorm to include other computer/online experiences that could be represented literally. The puzzle came together quite readily after that — I submitted the puzzle in April and received an acceptance email in June!

My seventh year of teaching is underway, and I’ll be welcoming students later this week. Happy school year 2023-24!

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What did you think?


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