Puzzle #56: Leading Competitors

Puzzle #56: “Leading Competitors”

Difficulty: Medium

Downloads:     PUZ      PDF     Last Week’s Solution


Happy Monday, puzzlers!

We’re live–from New Taskstodo, USA; my workload just loves to keep piling on this semester! Is this how life is supposed to work? Will it ever end!?!?

Despite the work that I probably should be completing right now, I wanted to take a bit to write some meaningful cross-stuff…it’s long overdue. So without further ado, I’d love to dive right in to the solution from two weeks ago, or, the “Switchbacks” suite! (Note: If you haven’t solved them yet, this is your cue to do so now. Be sure to set aside a LOT of time.)

Since so many of you claimed you wanted to see the answer grids after the solve, I figured I’d talk about these puzzles a bit. To make matters nice, frequent solver Charles Montpetit compiled this incredible solution grid–that’s right, NOT plural–for which I am extremely grateful and, quite frankly, impressed. Thank you, Charles, for making my life just that much easier! The image is below:

switchbacks (1)

As I mentioned before, this was by far the hardest and most time-consuming puzzle I have ever made. Usually, when I don’t post on time, it’s because I’ve hardcore procrastinated, yet want my sleep; however, this beastie ACTUALLY took the whole two or so weeks! The inspiration for this puzzle came from PARKOUR, which I had already been wanting to use as a seed entry for the longest time. I noticed how it was so close in spelling to PARKING, yet had such a different meaning, and, to my knowledge, was not based on the same root. I then wondered if there was a four letter string that could likewise complete the entries ????OUR and ????ING, and boom! …well, actually, BUST.

This then led me to recall one of my all-time favorite NYT Sunday puzzles, a Patrick Berry gem entitled “Splits and Mergers” that joined/divided entries with similar spellings yet no relation, such as NOT IF I CAN HELP IT / NOTIFICATION and DRY VERMOUTH / RIVER MOUTH. As I reflected on this, I wondered if I could make an entire puzzle contain these types of entries. Well, that was obviously a little ambitious, but the more interesting combos I thought of, the more I was enticed.

Realization of the final details came pretty early on: two identical 13×13 grids that contained dividing Across entries, which were split in half unless the number of letters was odd. Also, the grid pattern went practically unchanged throughout this entire process; only the “cheater squares” in the fifth and ninth rows were added. I began filling by entering the four longest Across answers as my seeds: PARKING / BUS TOUR, OPEN FIRE / WILD EYED, ATTAINS / PLAYBOY (which I was pretty proud of, if I may say), and…..ROAD TEST / ACID TRIP. Yep, this last one was originally completely different. And I had to replace it later on, because the crossing Downs in the lower middle section just didn’t wanna budge for anything!

This was the major problem in constructing. With many three-and-four-letter combinations out there, it actually wasn’t too difficult to come up with pairs of entries whose second halves could be flip-flopped. Rather, it was making the crossing entries as smooth as possible; I didn’t want to incur even the slightest obscurity, because that could make or break the already brain-boggling solving experience I was anticipating from this multi-puzzle gimmick. Another difficulty, interestingly enough, was duping three-letter words. This proved especially difficult to catch, because some “correct” entries that split between both grids would be identical to an “incorrect” entry positioned fully in one grid; I couldn’t use any software for my analysis. At one point, I had TRA throughout both puzzles a combined three times, and had to tear up the entire top-right section of Puzzle #53 as a result!

Since I don’t have any screenshots remaining, that’s probably as much as I can talk about for the construction, so I’ll reflect on this endeavor as a whole. Looking back, I worry that these puzzles were more of a slog to get through than full of interesting pairs; I noticed some looooong solving times from some of the greats, and I know when I sit at a puzzle for such a duration, I get bored. And annoyed. It’s why I don’t solve/construct as many Sundays these days. Surely this gimmick was novel, and based on feedback, it clearly has never been pulled off to such an extent…but was it all worth it? Perhaps this was one of those puzzles–or, two, for that matter–that embodied more of a “look at me, I’m a constructor that can do this!” puzzle rather than a “whoa, this blew my mind and was totally cool” kind. Regardless, I do hope you enjoyed…I’m not writing this fishing for any forced compliments either. Just musing! 🙂

On to Puzzle #56. Simple theme, but not as simple as it could have been. You know me by now. Paid extra attention to the cluing, so there’s a bit more misdirect than usual. Hoping it all translates to fun–lemme know whatcha think!


The Grid Kid




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