I’ve had two humbling (and exciting) honors in the past week. On March 1, Sam Donaldson at Diary of a Crossword Fiend released his nominees and winners of the 2018 Orcas (that’s an anagram of “Oscar”). He named my May 20 puzzle (“Back to Square One”) as the Best Sunday-Sized Puzzle of 2018. He also nominated two other puzzles of mine (the April Fools Day puzzle “The Missing Link” and the Aug. 12 variety metapuzzle “Spell It Out”) for honorable mentions, and he nominated me as one of the Constructors of the Year. It’s tremendous praise. The second big honor was solving Brendan Emmett Quigley’s puzzle from this past Thursday. Just look at 58A. I might live to be 500 years old, and being a clue in a crossword will never stop being the biggest trip in the universe.

My excited and grateful thanks to both Sam and Brendan for the praise and shout-outs.

Now, let’s look at today’s metapuzzle, which asks solvers to find a seven-letter word that makes up this puzzle’s “code.”

The first thing you’ll notice about this puzzle is its unusual shape. It’s a 26x17 grid; surely there must be a reason why I stretched the puzzle instead of resorting to a normal 21x21 grid, and there is. But how do you find this puzzle’s code? Usually you’d look at the longest answers first, but there aren’t that many long entries -- just two nine-letter answers (SHARKNADO and TIN-PLATED) and four eight-letter answers (SHORT-ARM, SET A DATE, CONTROLS, and ARMORALL). That’s made a little more odd by the fact that there are 157 total answers in the puzzle, far above what I normally do for themed puzzles (144), so there must be a lot of theme material.

One place that might give you some pause is at 76A: [___ Turkoglu, winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2008], which is HEDO. If you’re an NBA fan like me, you might recognize his name, but he’s far from the most famous NBA player who ever lived. In addition, REDO would likely be an easier answer in that slot. There are other answers featuring “do” like HAIRDO at 91A: [Stylist’s concern] and HOW DO at 127A: [Quaint salutation], but it’s such a short word to repeat and REDO is still a more accessible answer.

It turns out that the H of HEDO (along with the D and O as well) are necessary for the meta. There’s a famous set of code symbols broken across black squares on seven different rows in this puzzle. They’re the Morse code symbols DOT and DASH, shown highlighted below:

  • In row 7: FRODO/TOOTED/ASHORE. (Insert juvenile tittering here.)
  • In row 13: TIN-PLATED/OTHELLO.
  • In row 15: SODAS/HOW DO/TREAD/OTT.

Now, with the help of a Morse code translator, if you translate each combination of symbols into one Morse code letter per line:

  • DOT DASH = A
  • DOT = E

The code is CRACKED.

I had to stretch the grid as much as I did to fit in those two Morse code C’s -- four symbols in each meant there had to be at least five words in each row and they all had to split up DASH and DOT into actual words. In addition to having a ton of answers contribute words to the meta, one thing that made this puzzle really difficult to build in the early stages was that there really aren’t many options for words that begin with OT and end with D or DA or DAS. That’s why I had to rely a bunch of answers that begin with H and end with DO, like HONDO and HEDO and HAIRDO and HOW DO.

Somehow it all fit together. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Just a few other answers and clues of note:

  • 21A: [Original WTO member] is USA and 22A: ["21 Across! 21 Across!," e.g.] is CHANT. It’s funny to imagine that at crossword tournaments, people actually chant “21 Across! 21 Across!”
  • 43A: [2013 disaster film that spawned many sequels] is SHARKNADO. I’ve seen the first one, but none of the others. It has to rank up there among the most self-aware movie franchises ever in that the title tells you immediately that a) it’s about a tornado full of sharks and b) it’s bad.
  • 75A: [Gold digger?] is MIDAS. My favorite clue in the puzzle.
  • 113A: [Metapuzzle solver’s cry] is A-HA. By strange coincidence, I also had this same answer in the last metapuzzle I published.
  • 124A: [Rockies’ destination?] is HOME. Think baseball here.
  • 67D: [Apple platform seen in kiosks?] is IOS. As in, it’s literally found in the word “kiosks.” I’d hoped the punny clue would help the crossing with HEDO at 76A.
  • 108D: [Constant celebration in March?] is PI DAY. Hey, it’s coming up in a few days. Have some pie in celebration.

See you next week!