The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Solution to Evan Birnholz’s Nov. 7 Post Magazine crossword, “Time Change”

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Last week’s “Haunted House” mega-meta suite seemed to cause quite the stir on Halloween. I heard from many solvers that it made for a fun experience to co-solve it with friends and family, despite some of the mini-puzzles being quite challenging. I was especially heartened that so many solvers wrote to say that even if they weren’t able to complete the entire suite (particularly the cryptic, which is an entirely different kind of puzzle language than a standard crossword), they still enjoyed solving it. Perhaps I’ll try cooking up another suite sometime next year if the stars align properly, but we’ll see. If you haven’t tried “The Haunted House” yet, you have a few more weeks to get it here, and then read my long write-up with the solutions here.

I should mention, for the sake of transparency, that there was a small, easy-to-miss typo in one of the “Haunted House” clues in the print Magazine. In the first room (“Entrance Hall”), I misspelled the first word of the “Poison” band as Bel rather than the correct Bell, with two L’s. This wasn’t a typo that would prevent you from solving that puzzle correctly, and we managed to correct it before the online versions of the puzzle (both the PDF and the digital version) were released. Even though it’s a minor error in the big scheme, it’s unfortunate that it got through in that puzzle, so I apologize for that and hope it didn’t cause you any confusion.

In other news, while I don’t often publish crosswords in other venues, I was lucky enough to get a spot in Malaika Handa’s 7xwords series, which features 7×7 puzzles using all different configurations of black squares and standard rotational symmetry. You can solve my Oct. 24 puzzle here.

Did you remember to set your clocks back on Sunday morning, Nov. 7? That’s what served as the basis for today’s puzzle, which features three different mini-themes in the same grid (or as one of my test-solvers called it, a Frankenpuzzle). The first mini-theme involves simple anagrams of the word TIME, revealed with SCRAMBLE at 44A: [HINT: To get the circled words of 23 Across and 25 Across, ___ the word “time”].

  • 23A: [Task often assigned by a project manager] is ACTION ITEM.
  • 25A: [Tiny pest that’s a type of arachnid] is SPIDER MITE.

The second mini-theme is an unusual “Schrödinger” trick, where certain squares can accept two different letters and both of them would be considered correct in both directions. This is revealed with the answer TWO at 58D: [HINT: Each set of circled squares in 52 Across and 80 Across can be filled with ___ different units of time]. 52A: [Calculated pay rate] can be both HOURLY WAGE or WEEKLY WAGE, and the crossing Down clues work for both possibilities:

  • 42D: [Laughing sound] is either HAH or HAW.
  • 36D: [First name that means “noble”] is either GENO or GENE.
  • 37D: [Simmering product] is either RAGU or RAGE. I thought this was *just* in the realm of fair to be accurate for both answers. You have to imagine the sauce simmering on a stove while you’re cooking dinner, or a person simmering in anger.
  • 53D: [Possessor of great power in a fantasy novel, perhaps] is either RING or KING. I liked this pair, too.

Similarly, 80A: [“Can I talk to you?"] can be both “GOT A SECOND?” and “GOT A MINUTE?” with viable crossings for both:

  • 68D: [___ apple] is either ROSE or ROME.
  • 75D: [Something worn over one’s chest] is either TEE or TIE.
  • 59D: [Character on the Netflix series “Sex Education”] is either ERIC or ERIN. This was a very tough pairing to work out; I imagine there may be another famous Eric/Erin pair with the same last name that work in the same field, but if there is, I missed it.
  • 82D: [Preposition beginning with a vowel] is either ONTO or UNTO.
  • 83D: [Get a handle on, say] is either NAME or TAME.
  • 84D: [It can come in many different colors] is either DYE or EYE.

(If you were solving online, I encoded the “correct” solution to be the shorter of the two time units, so HOUR instead of WEEK and SECOND instead of MINUTE. But again, you should consider both units of time to be correct.)

Finally, the third mini-theme involves substituting one unit of time for another, creating wacky phrases. This is revealed with REPLACED at 89A: [HINT: In 111 Across and 113 Across, a unit of time has been ___ with another].

  • 111A: [Distract oneself with fantasies … multiplied by about 30?] is MONTHDREAM, based on the word daydream. There are 28 to 31 days in a month, so multiply a DAY by that much, and you get a MONTH.
  • 113A: [Annual high school publication … multiplied by 10?] is DECADEBOOK, based on yearbook. There are 10 years in a decade, so multiply a YEAR by 10, and you get a DECADE.

There you have it: Three ideas based on the concept of time changing, all in the same puzzle. Originally, the Schrödinger theme was going to be the overarching theme for the whole grid, and I had found what I thought was another decent pair of SCHOOL DAYS and SCHOOL YEAR (clued as [Concern for a parent-teacher association] or [Academic period] or something like that). The problem with that pair, though, is that it forced me to use a plural unit of time (DAYS) and switch it with the singular YEAR, where all other units of time were singular. That felt like an intractable problem, so I abandoned it. It’s hard to believe that of the units of time including and after SECOND, six of them have the same length as another (HOUR and WEEK and YEAR are the three 4′s, SECOND and MINUTE and DECADE are the three 6′s) … and none of the others match each other (DAY, MONTH, CENTURY, MILLENNIUM).

Much like last week, though, I hope your time on this puzzle was well-spent. What did you think?