I don’t mind telling y’all that I spent more time polishing this puzzle than anything else I’ve worked on in the last five years. Just getting to a symmetric grid-fill with well-enough-known words that were decently clue-able and fitting in the names of nine partially-truncated boardgames was so hard that I almost gave up several times. But I kept coming back to it, because I knew it could be done, I just knew it!
Once the grid was finally set, the clue-writing was relatively easier–but by relatively I mean not by much. Clue-writing for cryptics is a puzzle in and of itself, in that you’re trying to reverse-engineer a solution to each word that reads like an actual phrase or sentence; the challenge lies in covering your tracks as well as possible so the solver can’t easily distinguish between the definition and wordplay parts of the clue. All the while you have to adhere to not one but two very strict codes: (1) grammar and (2) clue keywords.
All right all right, cry me a river, the fact is I stupidly enjoyed putting the whole thing together and I’m thrilled to bits that seventeen people were able to solve it. Here are the solutions with brief explanations:
Across: 1 Malta (hidden word, aniMAL TAtoo), 4 Took to (container, to(ok)to), 7 Alar (subtraction, alarm -m), 8 Wingspan (anagram, spawning), 10 Mod (container, m(0)d), 12 Concordia (anagram, accordion), 14 Buoy (container, b(u)oy), 16 Kneel (homophone, Neil) , 17 Sets (double definition), 19 Pals (subtraction, pales – e), 20 Spirit Island (anagram, I slid parts in), 22 Leia (charade, lei + a), 24 Nods (double definition), 27 Voter (anagram, overt), 29 Prom (charade, pro + m), 30 Senorita (anagram, orients a), 31 Sue (homophone, Sioux), 32 Brigade (anagram, a bridge), 33 Desi (hidden word, maDE SItcom), 34 Arcane (anagram, a crane), 35 Pests (anagram, steps).
Down: 1 Mambas (charade, MA + MBA’s), 2 Aloud (replacement, cloud changing c → a), 3 Troyes (anagram, oyster), 4 Ticket To Ride (anagram, it rocketed it), 5 Ogre (reversal, ergo), 6 On Mars (container, o(NM)ars), 9 Pill (reversal/charade) L+LIP, 11 Dominion (charade, do+minion), 13 Dealers (anagram, elder as), 15 Vein (double definition), 18 Side (hidden word, guy’S IDEa), 21 Nemesis (anagram, seems in), 22 Lisboa (container, lis(BO)a), 23 Ever (beheadment, sever – s), 25 Spade (hidden word, mattresS PAD Easily), 26 Joust (container j(0)ust, 28 Toga (reversal/charade GOT + a).
The nine games that were missing pieces were: Wingsp(A)n, (C)oncordia, Spirit Islan(D), Troy(E)s, Tick(E)t to Ride, On (M)ars, Domi(N)ion, Neme(S)is, and Lisb(O)a. The missing letters anagrammed into CODENAMES, which I thought was a fitting final answer, don’t you?
The one clue which proved the toughest hurdle for many of the solvers was also one of the last ones I finalized: 2 Down. “Sully making CA outspoken”. It’s a newer type of clue which is called replacement. In this case, you take a word meaning “Sully” (not the nickname which is implied but the verb), which is cloud, and then you “make the ‘c’ an ‘a’”, changing it into a word meaning “spoken out”, which is the answer, aloud. Believe me when I say I tried clueing it many different ways before settling on that version, and no doubt one of you can probably think of a better way of doing it.
And so, finally, to our winner. Chosen at random from our correct entrants is Daniel Rocchi, who will be receiving a copy of Hadara courtesy of Z-Man Games. You might recognize the name; aside from being a crack cryptic solver, Daniel also happens to be the designer of The Artemis Project among other games. (I swear on my copy of Star Wars The Queen’s Gambit that this had nothing to do with it!!)
Thanks to all who entered, and to those who tried but didn’t enter. Cryptics are the best! Now I have to start thinking of ideas for our end-of-year contest…