XW Info

Sunday, September 22, 2013
LETTERBOXES
by Mike Selinker
CONTEST CROSSWORD

In this special prize crossword, the completed solution conceals a familiar three-word phrase related to the puzzle's theme. 70-Across provides a hint on how to find it. The crossword itself can be solved in all the usual online formats. However, to solve the bonus contest element, you will need to see some heavy outlines in the grid, which cannot be reproduced electronically. Thus, if you plan to enter the contest, please print out the PDF version of the puzzle.
     When you have the answer, e-mail it to crossword@nytimes.com. Twenty-five correct solvers, chosen at random, whose entries are received by 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Sept. 24, will receive copies of The New York Times Crossword Puzzles 2014 Day-to-Day Calendar, courtesy of Andrews McMeel. Only one entry per person, please. The answer and explanation will appear next week. The winners' names will be announced on Friday, Sept. 27, on the Times's daily crossword blog at nytimes.com/wordplay.
★POW Sun 9/22/2013LETTERBOXES
CASTMATSTHEMSHA
OPORTOTHEOHALOSTAC
DUNCANHANDLEWITHCARE
ORNERYOILAOKOLDBAT
REEDSPRESSSECRETARY
SECPREGATPOMTEL
STACIESRIDALIS
THEFBIANNEAETHER
WAVEESCGAMELAUDE
CIVSOLDOUTMOBSSLIP
READTHISGRIDINBRAILLE
INTOOCTOORBISONEEL
MEANTKENSKIAGADS
ERRORSASHYACIDIC
RATEDAERQUESTS
CRTSAXRAIGSNHEM
TOUCHTONEPHONEOPERA
SCRIBEABELITSWEDES
CONTACTPOISONSANTONE
ACEGAHANABETGUTTER
NORROSYTOROSPYS
© 2013, The New York Times
Jeff Chen notes:

JEFF: Hello from down the road (Mike and I both live in Seattle)! Brilliant meta with a great theme reveal, F-E-E-L T-H-E L-O-V-E formed in Braille rectangles, using O's as the Braille dots. How did you come up with the idea?

MIKE: Pretty much the same way I come up with every idea: in a highly disjointed manner. I was just thinking about how puzzle hunt people are probably the second largest group of consumers of Braille other than people with real sight issues and those who cater to them. Then I thought that a puzzle could use O's to represent Braille dots in a boxed array, and then it was one more leap to "O = love" (as in tennis).

JEFF: It must have been a bear to construct, given that there are no other O's in the puzzle. Elegant. What was the toughest section to fill, given that heavy constraint?

MIKE: So, you might think it was the lower left which had TOUCH TONE PHONE and CONTACT POISONS, which are loaded with O's in specific spots. But that actually just meant those were ordinary theme entries. The upper right was a monster to construct. The two theme entries had no O's, but were stacked with non-theme entries with O's in very specific spots. That section got rewritten multiple times. I had other entries in PRESS SECRETARY's spot: MASCARA BRUSHES (wrong format), FINGER PAINTING (not the best verb meaning "touch"). Nothing really worked till I came up with PRESS SECRETARY. Then it all eventually came together. Eventually.

JEFF: Funny, I was just about to say that TOUCH TONE PHONE must have been tough to incorporate, given that the O's had to be locked into certain places. For me, that was the best theme answer; perfect for the meta. Did it take a lot of brainstorming to come up with FEEL THE LOVE as the meta-answer? What were some of the other metas you considered?

MIKE: I can't find a version of the puzzle without FEEL THE LOVE. I did spend a long time wondering what the puzzle would say, but I didn't start laying down any tracks until I knew how the train worked. One other thing though: I have an entire version of this puzzle with no theme entries whatsoever, just the Braille boxes and the central instruction. I think there are people out there who would prefer the themeless version, since they don't appreciate a grid that's highly constrained. I didn't like it, though. You need a reason for all that activity, in my opinion, and the theme entries provided it.

JEFF: Totally agreed, especially for the NYT audience. It would have been cool without the theme answers, but things like PRESS SECRETARY and TOUCH TONE PHONE add another layer of elegance. That raises a question I wondered about while solving — at Lone Shark Games, you're typically creating puzzle hunts for an uber-puzzle-geek, someone who's entrenched in puzzles and metas. Did you want to make this contest harder? Was there some back and forth with Will on the question of difficulty?

MIKE: Right, I'm associated with super-hard stuff as a rule. I guess that informed why I've not had standard crosswords in the Times before. I'm always trying to make things with lots of layers. The Maze of Games is really just a giant interconnected web; the Puzzlecraft book is an attempt to tell a narrative about puzzle construction. So of course I came at this with an "all the things!" approach. Will pretty much let me roam unchecked, which made some people very happy and some people not so happy. I guess my primary goal was to make Will happy, which he was.

JEFF: Would you have preferred to make it harder? Did you feel like you had to keep yourself in check for the audience? Or is this about the level of difficulty that you typically put into a metapuzzle? And on a separate note, can you give us an update on The Maze of Games (drooling)?

MIKE: Nah, it definitely didn't want to be harder. I mean, there was a version with *no* boxes. But that was inscrutable. This hit what I wanted. Now, please stop drooling on my internet. The Maze of Games is almost done in layout; I'm down in LA right now going through approvals. It looks just gorgeous; Pete Venters and Elisa Teague did some stunning work. We are about to try to beat every blemish out of the main section of the book in a major round of playtesting. Then we will turn our attention to gussying up the Conundrucopia section, which has some major luminaries like yourself in it.

JEFF: (wiping drool) Lucky for us, there are six other Intertubes we can use to communicate. Anything else you'd like solvers or constructors to know about this puzzle? And what's next for Mike Selinker? Will we see more NYT xws or is this a one-time thing?

MIKE: I have to thank Will and Deb Amlen and the crew for being willing to take a chance on something this new and bizarre. They were braced for a hurricane of feedback based on this puzzle, and they definitely got it. But I think they thought it was worth it. I hope I can return the favor when Will and company see how awesome their puzzles look in The Maze of Games, alongside Patrick Berry, Scott Kim, and so many other puzzle heroes of mine. As for me, I'm going to continue to treat the New York Times as the greatest puzzle canvas in history. You don't sully it with lesser work. If and only if I have something that's worth painting on that canvas, I'll submit it. I can't guarantee it, but I hope that's someday soon.

JEFF: Amen to that, brother. When I first started constructing, I threw pretty much any crazy idea I had at Will, and he gave me great feedback (and very politely asked me to send only three at a time). Took me a while to realize that not just anything can make its way into the NYT. Hopefully other constructors can learn from your well-considered philosophy and only submit their very best stuff. Good luck to you and I'll look forward to receiving my copy of the Maze of Games!

MIKE: Thanks, Jeff. This has been a fun and thoughtful dialogue, and I hope people have enjoyed it. I'll go out on this email I just got from a fan named Lewis: "Letterboxes was the most moving puzzle I have ever done. By decoding the Braille, I felt like I had more empathy, just a bit, for what it must be like learning Braille and first using it; and by learning something about its history, I appreciated something of the care and even love that went into its development. This link between the process of experiencing a work of art and the message of the art itself is something one sees mainly in great poetry." I don't know about the poetry part, but I think the empathy part is bang-on. We are lucky people to be able to experience life to the fullest, to spend time imagining ourselves with the difficulties that others experience. If this puzzle had a little touch of that for anyone else, then I'm so glad I constructed it.

JEFF: I'll wrap up on my side by saying what a cool e-mail from Lewis. Neat how much puzzles can enhance people's lives! And that I might have a slight man crush on you. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

MIKE: (ahem)

(awkward silence)

1.Crew's colleagues : CAST
5.Dojo needs : MATS
9.Classic sci-fi film billed as "a horror horde of crawl-and-crush giants" : THEM
13."La-La" lead-in in a 1974 Al Green hit : SHA
16.Iberian wine city : OPORTO
18."Vincent & ___" (film about the van Gogh brothers) : THEO
19.Rings of angels : HALOS
21.What X-O-X lacks? : TAC
22."Macbeth" king : DUNCAN
23.Words on a fragile package : HANDLEWITHCARE
26.Irascible : ORNERY
27."Mona Lisa," e.g. : OIL
28.Thumbs-up : AOK
29.Harridan : OLDBAT
30.Orchestra section : REEDS
31.Mouthpiece for the head? : PRESSSECRETARY
34.Jiffy : SEC
35.Not post- : PRE
37.Old piece : GAT
38.Little dog, for short : POM
39.___ Aviv : TEL
40.Strawberry blond sister of Barbie : STACIE
43.Hindu "Mr." : SRI
44."Swans Reflecting Elephants" and others : DALIS
46.1960s-'70s series starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. : THEFBI
49.Oscar winner Hathaway : ANNE
51.Material beyond the terrestrial plane, in medieval science : AETHER
55.Hello or goodbye, maybe : WAVE
57.PC key : ESC
59.First word in 104-Across : GAME
61.Cum ___ : LAUDE
62.___ engr. : CIV
63.Like hit shows, often : SOLDOUT
67.Pitchfork-wielding groups : MOBS
69.Boo-boo : SLIP
70.How to get a message out of the boxes : READTHISGRIDINBRAILLE
74.Van Morrison song "___ the Mystic" : INTO
75.Numerical prefix : OCTO
76."Only the Lonely" singer : ORBISON
77.Part of a wriggly field? : EEL
78.Foreordained : MEANT
80.Understands : KENS
82.Maker of the Sorento : KIA
83.Gallivants, with "about" : GADS
85.Boo-boos : ERRORS
87.Pale : ASHY
89.Like citrus fruits : ACIDIC
92.Like video games, nowadays : RATED
94.___ Lingus : AER
96.Round Table assignments : QUESTS
99.Old PC monitor feature : CRT
102.Ernie's instrument on "Sesame Street," informally : SAX
103.Italy's main broadcasting co. : RAI
104.TV channel with lots of bells and whistles : GSN
105.Take up, as a skirt : HEM
107.Rotary alternative : TOUCHTONEPHONE
112.Covent Garden performance : OPERA
114.Newspaper columnist, humorously : SCRIBE
115.Grampa Simpson : ABE
116.Snockered : LIT
117.Anders Celsius and Greta Garbo, for two : SWEDES
118.DDT and others : CONTACTPOISONS
121."Is Anybody Goin' to San ___" (#1 Charley Pride song) : ANTONE
122.Bullet, in poker : ACE
123.Cartoonist Wilson : GAHAN
124.Help illicitly : ABET
125.Alley flanker : GUTTER
126.Hide/hair link : NOR
127.Looking up : ROSY
128.Chant at a bullfight : TORO
129.Satirical 1974 espionage film : SPYS
1.With 97-Down, classic puzzle type : CONNECT
2.Like eyebrows : ARCED
3.Ones getting the red-carpet treatment, say : STARS
4."The Spiderwick Chronicles" co-author DiTerlizzi : TONY
5.Antarctic summit between peaks named for faith and charity : MTHOPE
6.Words after "win by" or "hang by" : AHAIR
7.What lobsters and crabs have : TENLEGS
8.Nursery purchase : SOD
9.Baltimore club, for short : THEOS
10.Ethan of "Before Sunrise" : HAWKE
11.Giant Manning : ELI
12.Company that pioneered walkie-talkies : MOTOROLA
13."___ Mater" (hymn) : STABAT
14.African capital : HARARE
15.Organic chemistry group : ACETYL
16.Lilac and lavender : ODORS
17.Turns into mush : PUREES
20.Oaf : SHLEMIEL
24.Not ephemeral : LASTING
25.All ChiSox home games are played on it : CDT
32.___ Lee : SARA
33.Pro with books, for short : CPA
35.Slapstick prop : PIE
36.Play watcher : REF
41.Motocross entry, for short : ATV
42.Pirate's cargo : CHEST
44.Frenzied as if possessed : DEMONIAC
45.East German secret police : STASI
47.Where a mattress goes : BEDSTEAD
48.Shapes like squares : ISOGONS
50.Country that has two oryxes on its coat of arms : NAMIBIA
52.Like much processed wheat : HULLED
53.Roman magistrates : EDILES
54.Push off : REPEL
55.Food item named after an Austrian city : WIENER
56.Film set on Pandora : AVATAR
58.Snarly dog : CUR
60.Recedes : EBBS
62.Blackmail, e.g. : CRIME
64."Well, now!" : OHO
65.Beat : LICK
66.Uncle Pedro, e.g. : TIO
68.Sign of a successful show : SRO
71.One with a name on a plaque, maybe : DONOR
72.Nickname for baseball's Dwight Gooden : DRK
73.Rolling Stones #1 hit with the lyric "You're beautiful, but ain't it time we said goodbye?" : ANGIE
79.Hefty thing : TRASHBAG
81.Wrinkly dog : SHARPEI
84.Ones providing cold comfort, briefly : ACS
86.Big wheel's wheels : STATECAR
88."You betcha" : YEAH
90.Dim bulbs have low ones : IQS
91.Horse hue : DUN
93.Prefix with skeleton : EXO
95.1970 John Wayne western : RIOLOBO
97.See 1-Down : THEDOTS
98.Placid : SERENE
99.Self-image? : CTSCAN
100.Like the Palace of Versailles : ROCOCO
101.English landscapist famous for "The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons" : TURNER
104.Irritates : GETSTO
106.Electromagnetic device : MASER
108.Op. ___ (footnote phrase) : CIT
109.Some West Coast wines : NAPAS
110.Magazine to which Obama gave his first postelection interview in 2008 : EBONY
111.N.F.C. West player : NINER
112.Admit : OWNUP
113.Trifling : PETTY
117.Wilts : SAGS
119."___ my destiny be Fustian" (Dickinson poem) : THO
120.Was idle : SAT

© 2014, Jim Horne