Today’s crossword marks the 300th for The Washington Post Magazine since I started in December 2015. Two of them were guest crosswords; No. 222 was by Zhouqin Burnikel, and No. 277 was by Lynn Lempel. I edited both of those guest puzzles, so I’ve had at least a hand in all 300. However we count them … time really flies, huh? Thank you to all Post solvers, those who’ve been there from the beginning and others who joined later, as well as my small team of test-solvers and editors who put up with the puzzling nonsense that comes out of who knows which corners of my imagination. I would also like to thank the team at Amuse Labs, whose work on the PuzzleMe interface has done wonders for solving crosswords online (including today’s puzzle). Let’s do another 300.

If you solved this puzzle on paper, you’ll notice there are some instructions above the clues that say: “When you’re done, take the first letters of certain prominent characters you’ve found and read them clockwise to spell out a person you may have heard of.” Those instructions are also available online, but the online version also warned solvers that your cursor might disappear while solving and that this was *not* a glitch. So there’s something strange going on with this puzzle.

You may have encountered that strangeness right off the bat since several clues in the upper-left corner don’t seem to fit. UNIT would make sense for 2D: [Pint or gallon, e.g.], but there are only three squares. 4D: [“It’s ___!" (cry in a 1931 sci-fi horror film)] should definitely be ALIVE, but that’s one square too many.

UNIT and ALIVE are the correct answers for those clues, but their first letters exist outside the grid. The puzzle is a tribute to cartoon characters and the people who do voice-over work for them. The names of the characters they voice reside outside the grid’s borders, making sense of the clues with answers that, at first glance, seem to be a letter short. The TV shows and movies they appear in are the grid as well, and the clues hint at the actors who provide the hidden characters’ voices:

  • 101A: [Animated TV show with voice-overs by Alex Borstein and Seth Green] is “FAMILY GUY.” Those actors do the voices of LOIS and CHRIS Griffin, respectively. LOIS is over the southern border, formed from the words OVAL, RENO, ANTI, and LATTES; and CHRIS is over the western border, formed from CLOP, HALL, RUSE, IDEA, and SENDS UP.
  • 118A: [Animated TV show with voice-overs by Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright] is “THE SIMPSONS.” Yeardley Smith does the voice of LISA Simpson, who’s over the northern border and formed from LAMA, ITEM, SORE, and AMENDED. Nancy Cartwright does the voice of BART Simpson, who’ve over the eastern border and formed from PART B, CARA, EVER, and BASEST.
  • 120A: [Animated film with voice-overs by James Earl Jones and Moira Kelly] is “THE LION KING.” James Earl Jones does the voice of MUFASA, who’s over the northern border and formed from MASS, UNIT, FAME, ALIVE, SOLES, and AGENT. Moira Kelly does the voice of NALA, who’s over the western border and formed from NAMES, A TAD, LIKE, and ATONES.
  • 39D: [Animated film with voice-overs by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell] is “FROZEN.” Idina Menzel does the voice of ELSA, who’s over the northern border and formed from ELAPSED, LICE, SLIP, and AIDS. Kristen Bell does the voice of ANNA, who’s over the southern border and formed from SHORT A, LEAN, ESPN, and SHEA.

Now, back to the puzzle’s instructions. Take the first letters of those cartoon characters over the borders and read them clockwise …

  • ELSA
  • LISA
  • BART
  • LOIS
  • ANNA
  • NALA

… and you get MEL BLANC, the famous voice-over actor who did the voices for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, and many others from the Looney Tunes universe, as well as Barney Rubble on “The Flintstones” and Mr. Spacely on “The Jetsons.” Hopefully you’ve heard of him. You’ve certainly heard him, if you’ve ever watched an episode of the classic cartoons.

There was a little bit of magic — or rather, dumb luck — that allowed this theme to happen. The first thing I tried was seeing if I could spell MEL BLANC with just Looney Tunes characters, and ideally with characters whose voices he provided. You’ve got the B with BUGS, the E with ELMER, the M with MARVIN the Martin … but beyond that, you’re getting into pretty obscure characters. So I expanded the search to include any and all famous animated characters, while keeping an eye on their TV show or film titles to fit them in the puzzle, too. I found three good pairs and had the characters for M?L BL?NC, so I just needed an E and an A … and then caught lightning in a bottle when ELSA and ANNA were sitting right there.

The challenge for me was sticking to the same aesthetic I have used for other puzzles, with letters over the grid’s borders: I wanted every answer to be a legitimate crossword entry with and without the hidden letters. For that reason, it was another stroke of luck that most of those characters ended up being four letters long. The longer the character’s name, the larger the stack of answers I’d have to deal with to get a normal-looking grid without the cartoon characters. It took quite a while to settle on the MUFASA corner, much longer than other areas of the puzzle.

But like I said, it was a milestone puzzle for me, so I had to go the extra mile.

Some other answers and clues:

  • 15A: [Plant life?] is SPYING. I’d been sitting on this clue for a little while now, either for SPYING or ESPIONAGE, whichever came up first. The thing with left-right symmetrical grids like this is that sometimes you get a corner that is completely unconstrained by theme material, which means I get to unload a clue I’ve been saving up. I hope you didn’t get tricked by SPRING, which is definitely associated with plant life, but doesn’t really fit the clue.
  • 36A: [Olympic champion gymnast Suni] is Suni LEE. She appeared in a clue alongside Simone Biles last week, and now she gets her own clue. Expect to see many, many LEE clues about her in crosswords going forward (and SUNI clues, too, since that’s another very useful letter combination).
  • 60A: [Image of a brain?] is IDEA, with the I outside the grid. Not MRI, if you thought of that before the hidden letter trick became clear.
  • 90A: [Source of pot growth] is SEED and, the echoing clue at 144A: [Source of pot growth?], is ANTE. Plants in the first pot, poker for the second pot.
  • 129A: [Quarterback Nick who was the MVP of Super Bowl LII] is Nick FOLES. Being a Bears fan living in and around Philadelphia for many years now has given me quite the odd experience watching Nick Foles. First I saw him go on an amazing run as a backup quarterback in the 2017 season and win a Super Bowl for the Eagles while the whole city went wild. A year later he came in as a backup again and beat the Bears on the road in the infamous “Double Doink” game which I still haven’t recovered from, thank you. Then, two seasons after that, the Bears traded for Nick Foles, despite the fact that he hadn’t won a game as a quarterback since the Double Doink game, and he drove literally every Bears fan mad with his inconsistent play — not unlike every Bears quarterback I’ve rooted for in my lifetime. Now he’s a backup again and who knows what will happen next.
  • 15D: [Alone time?] is SOLO. Another clue I’d been saving up, but I didn’t plan for it to appear in this puzzle. It just luckily ended up in the same corner as SPYING.
  • 18D: ["___ won … but at what cost?"] is I’VE. This was just an excuse to link to the meme of Wario saying the same thing. It’s become one of my favorite memes.
  • 41A: [Row over land, say?] is DISPUTE. You have to pronounce “row” like it rhymes with “cow.”
  • 102D: [5.4, for the set {8, 6, 7, 5, 3, 0, 9}] is MEAN. For all of you fans of the Tommy Tutone song out there.
  • 119D: [Bad sound?] is SHORT A, with the hidden A. That’s the short A vowel sound in the word “bad,” as opposed to a long A sound like in the word “wait.”
  • 132D: [Former stadium that’s contained in 43 Down] is SHEA, with the hidden A, and 43D: [Shave, as wool] is SHEAR. I gave that hint just in case you didn’t know if the animated character’s name was ANNA or ANNE and didn’t remember the stadium’s name.

It’s on to Puzzle No. 301. What did you think?