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Solution to Evan Birnholz’s Nov. 27 crossword, “The Long and the Short of It”

Thanksgiving is now past us, but the December holidays are coming up soon, so here’s a gift recommendation for the puzzle lover in your family. The film company A24 has released a book of 99 movie crosswords, edited by Anna Shechtman and constructed by multiple puzzle writers (some of whom are entertainers in the film and TV business). It features puzzles that range from easy to hard and it touches on different areas of film knowledge, but knowing the folks involved, I’d say you’d be in for a good time.

The instructions to the meta say we are looking for a five-letter American company. There are five starred answers to get you started:

  • 23A: [*Key term in many EPA publications] is HAZMAT.
  • 43A: [*NYC film festival locale] is TRIBECA.
  • 72A: [*Annual Nov. challenge for aspiring authors] is NANOWRIMO.
  • 103A: [*Military org. that’s part of the U.S. Department of Defense] is CENTCOM.
  • 126A: [*Gummy candy company that expanded to the U.S. in 1982] is HARIBO.

So, just five obvious theme answers, totaling only 35 letters between them. That’s not a lot of real estate for a Sunday-size grid, so that must mean there’s more at work in this puzzle than just those entries.

The first step is to notice that all five of these answers are made up of abbreviated words, and their clues hint at that with abbreviations of their own. Actually, there’s a handy term for this kind of word: a syllabic abbreviation, which strings together syllables of different words to form a single word.

What might the second step be? Well, since you have abbreviated words in those five answers, what if you wrote out those abbreviations in full? It may take some Googling if you don’t know them off the top of your head, but it’s easy enough to find what they all stand for:

  • HAZMAT → Hazardous Materials
  • TRIBECA → Triangle Below Canal
  • NANOWRIMO → National Novel Writing Month
  • CENTCOM → Central Command
  • HARIBO → Hans Riegel Bonn

The third step is the real key to solving the meta. Do you remember seeing some of those longer words while solving the puzzle? They’re not in the grid, but you’ll find them in the first words of 14 different clues. Here they are in thematic order:

  • 112D: [Hazardous blanket] is SMOG.
  • 32A [Materials used in basketry] is REEDS.
  • 11D: [Triangle after gamma] is DELTA.
  • 2D: [Below the correct pitch] is FLAT.
  • 66D: [Canal in the folk song “Low Bridge, Everybody Down”] is ERIE.
  • 59A: [National emblem of Wales] is LEEK.
  • 111D: [Novel on a Nook] is EBOOK.
  • 105A: [Writing implements] is PENS.
  • 47A: [Month for the Boston Marathon] is APRIL.
  • 87A: [Central Chinese city] is XIAN.
  • 12D: [Command from a monarch] is EDICT.
  • 7A: [Hans attends her coronation in “Frozen”] is ELSA.
  • 119A: [Riegel who provided the voice of Donatello on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”] is SAM.
  • 109D: [Bonn river] is RHINE.

Now what? The first letters of those answers in that order appear to form gibberish. But there’s another logical way you can order them. Take those same entries in grid order, from top to bottom:

  • 2D: FLAT
  • 7A: ELSA
  • 11D: DELTA
  • 12D: EDICT
  • 32A: REEDS
  • 47A: APRIL
  • 59A: LEEK
  • 66D: ERIE
  • 87A: XIAN
  • 105A: PENS
  • 109D: RHINE
  • 111D: EBOOK
  • 112D: SMOG
  • 119A: SAM

Now, take the first letters of those 14 answers in that order, and you spell out FEDERAL EXPRESS. That’s the lengthened name of the five-letter American company (and syllabic abbreviation) FEDEX. There’s our meta answer.

One of the starred answers has personal significance for me in that I did NaNoWriMo once, back in Nov. 2009. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of an original novel in just 30 days. For most people it’s impossible to start and finish a well-written and fully polished novel in that short a period of time, so you just let go of whatever anxiety you have about the story’s quality and just write as much as you can. I made it to the 50,000-word goal, though I’d say I was maybe only one-third of the way through the novel I was working on. I never got around to finishing it and it probably wasn’t what you would call a “good story” or “something that has a remote chance of ever getting published,” but that’s not the point of NaNoWriMo. The whole goal was just to get creative and have fun in the process, and it was remarkably fun to write. Perhaps one day I’ll try it again if I have the time. For anyone who’s participating this year, you only have a few days left, so good luck on making it to 50,000 words … and if you can’t get there, give yourself a pat on the back for however much you were able to accomplish.

The one potential theme answer I was saddest to leave out of the puzzle was BIMONSCIFICON. Longtime fans of “The Simpsons” will recognize that as the Bimonthly Science Fiction Convention, which had a hilarious gag when it was first introduced in 1998. I didn’t leave it out of the grid because it would be a total mystery for readers who don’t watch “The Simpsons.” I left it out because I didn’t know what to do with the first two syllables. The word is rendered on the show as Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, and that makes five syllables from four words. I wasn’t sure if I should use one clue starting with “Bimonthly,” or two clues starting with “Bi” and “Monthly.” The former would be more accurate for the abbreviation, but it would also be inconsistent with the other theme answers since none of them use two syllables hinting at the same word.

What did you think?