Quick puzzle announcement: A new indie crossword blog has launched! Young gun Will Nediger started up bewilderingly, where he’ll post new puzzles each Monday. Check ’em out, will ya?

I mentioned last week that today’s puzzle might be a challenging one. Let’s see how it worked.


Solution to December 4, 2016 crossword, “Cutting Edge”

There are six phrases hinting at hidden words in this puzzle, which I’ll get to in a minute:

  • 28A: [San Diego or Detroit, e.g., and a description of a hidden word in this puzzle] is a BORDER TOWN.
  • 45A: [Broker’s demand, and a description of a hidden word in this puzzle] is a MARGIN CALL.
  • 64A: [Certain bonus, and a description of a hidden word in this puzzle] is a FRINGE BENEFIT.
  • 73A: [Ball-handling and outside shooting skills in basketball, and a description of a hidden word in this puzzle] is PERIMETER PLAY. Maybe not the most familiar phrase for non-basketball fans, but basically, a perimeter player is someone who excels at many different skills in the area outside the free-throw circle (an area also called “the key”). Some of those skills were ones I didn’t even list in the clue, such as passing, dribbling, team strategy like playing the pick-and-roll, and playing defense. Players who do a lot of their damage from mid-range jump shots and guard against opposing players from driving to the basket are considered perimeter players.
  • 92A: [Atlantis environment, and a description of a hidden word in this puzzle] is OUTER SPACE. If that threw you off the trail, I meant the Atlantis of NASA, not the Atlantis of the ocean.
  • 106A: [Insincere words, and a description of a hidden word in this puzzle] is LIP SERVICE.

So what were those hidden words, and where were they? You may have noticed a few clues right in the upper-left corner didn’t seem quite right at first. 1D: [Auction word] was seemingly OLD. 4D: [Like Hitchcock films] was apparently ERIE. With a hint from the title and the first words of the six long theme entries, the hidden words were sitting outside the grid’s edge, each one corresponding to a different theme answer (color coded above):

  • BORDER TOWN describes a BURG on the grid’s border, turning A TON/NIX/ARE/LEN into BATON/UNIX/RARE/GLEN.
  • MARGIN CALL describes the umpire’s call “SAFE” on the grid’s margin, turning OLD/GEE/LED/ERIE into SOLD/AGEE/FLED/EERIE.
  • FRINGE BENEFIT describes a job PERK on the grid’s fringe, turning ONCE/MAILS/APT/NEE into PONCE/EMAILS/RAPT/KNEE.
  • PERIMETER PLAY describes a stage SHOW on the grid’s perimeter, turning BOA/ARC/DINER/RENE into BOAS/ARCH/DINERO/RENEW.
  • OUTER SPACE describes an AREA on the outside of the grid, turning SASH/BEE/LAM/ELS into SASHA/BEER/LAME/ELSA.
  • LIP SERVICE describes a religious MASS on the grid’s lip, turning BEA/ARI/HAN/LAST into BEAM/ARIA/HANS/LASTS.

Perhaps that was a tough theme to sort out, but I’m hoping the a-ha moment would be a good one if you got it. My main objective was to make sure that the grid contained legitimate words with and without the hidden edge answers, which is why I had to sneak them in those little closed-off pockets.

Other answers and clues of note:

  • 76A: [Cavaliers coach Tyronn] is Tyronn LUE. I believe he was in last week’s puzzle, too. Hey, he’s got useful letters and he got me out of a jam on that right side.
  • 98A: [Skeletor’s nemesis] is HE-MAN. I went as Skeletor for Halloween this year. I have no regrets.
  • 114A: [Banking site?] is a POOL TABLE. Banking as in a ball caroming off the cushion.
  • 6D: [“Man Crazy" writer, or a “Maneater" co-writer] is OATES. Either Joyce Carol OATES or John OATES, that is.
  • 49D: [Modern portmanteau that means “famished and furious"] is HANGRY. I have no idea why, but for some reason the accompanying picture on this short Merriam-Webster piece about the word “hangry” is a cat lying on a chair and generally being cute. It doesn’t look particularly famished or furious.
  • 86D: [Place for pickup lines?] is not a bar, but a BUS DEPOT. But maybe the clue works for dating too. I won’t judge.

One other thing: Sometimes (or rather, almost always) it takes a village to write a crossword, and that was especially true with the clue for PERIMETER PLAY. I’m a lifelong NBA fan, but if you asked me a few weeks ago, I’d have had a very difficult time describing in a concise way what perimeter play actually is. Like I said, it entails many different skills and it’s hard to summarize them in a single clue. So I reached out to a couple of basketball writers, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and contributing Orlando Magic Daily writer Dar-Wei Chen. They were both really gracious with their time and gave me some good direction on how to best phrase that clue. That’s why they’re the NBA experts and I’m just a fan who once had a decent jump shot when I was 13.

See you next week!

**Special thanks to Erik Agard and Sam Ezersky for test-solving this puzzle, and to my copy editor Jenny Abella for her thorough fact-checking and proofreading of clues.**