This puzzle started off with a busted WSJ puzzles site. I couldn’t do the crossword puzzle on my screen no matter which computer or browser I used. So I printed it out. I did the puzzle in pen, and that got Calah to call me a lunatic or something to that effect.
As I went through, I did have some errors, so I had to overwrite some of my answers. It’s not the prettiest of grids, but it’s honest.
It was a lot of fun, but I knew I couldn’t get the meta puzzle answer from this nonsense.
So it was off to Excel!
The clues fell into place, as did the highlighting.
And, of course, the missing word of the movie titles.
AMERICA BLACK ULTIMATUM GAME SUNDAY
A BUG’S with the missing LIFE because I WON’T SPOIL THE ENDING.
I tried and lost with this one. The title of the puzzle is The Party Starts at 10. That was supposed to help me, I thought. It hasn’t as of writing this, but that could change partway through. Who knows!
My first instinct was that the answers would start with IO. Because IO looks like 10.
That didn’t go very far because it was immediately and very obviously wrong.
Then I started looking a a phrase that started with the answer to 10D. Nope.
Then I started noticing a trend. TEN was written out in the grid!
There’s no way that’s a coincidence.
I looked for COUNTDOWN because DOWN was under the TEN in the SE corner. No dice. I stared at this for way too long. I also thought of RING IN THE NEW YEAR, but that’s five words, so nope!
Got up. Did other stuff. Came back. Nothing.
Then I realized it’s AT 10.
This, too, provided no help.
I went back into the archives of the puzzle to see if there was a trend I was missing.
Shifting these repeating words to reveal new words did nil.
I remembered that the longest clues were each 10 letters long, so I highlighted those and overlaid the TENs I’d found.
So it was back to AT 10!
Maybe the words were missing a T? Or were in some pattern?
Frustrated, I then went back to the long answers, and after much staring and looking for things, I came up with something stupid.
Longtime listeners of NPR’s Car Talk remember a puzzler and subsequent references to Ray saying something to the effect of, “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that there’s only one answer.” That there wasn’t only one answer was a source of taunting and replays of that statement in other episodes.
But that’s what I’m going to do here.
I am so confident that my answer to the Crossword Contest is right that I’m starting out with it and dedicating this entire post to it. The post about the puzzle will drop in about an hour.
The path to getting there was absolutely crazy.
Since last week was the first time I had ever tried the Crossword Contest, I thought the solution may follow the same approach of a shifted template. So I tried to find links there.
The first attempt started with noticing a lot of doubled letters.
There weren’t nearly enough or in any shape to give me a clue, but maybe there was more I could do with doubled letters.
That led to trying to find if all the doubled letters made a shape.
It did not.
However, I found that there were 12 letters in the puzzle that were doubled: A, C, E, F, H, I, L, N, O, R, S, T. The clue said a 12-letter word. Maybe it’s a word that uses only those 12 letters?
I rejected that pretty quickly because that’s too much.
I decided to black out the doubled letters to see if that revealed a word.
The revealed word was obvious: NO.
Back to the drawing board.
I looked at old puzzle answers. They had to do with the main clue or linked clues or gaps or really anything. But I looked hard at the only linked clue: 25A With 45-Across, where you might find a present: BENEATH / THETREE.
OK! So I see the word TREE all around. I also see the word THE in many places. That’s gotta be it.
Here’s where Ron Howard says: “But, it wasn’t.”
It was back to looking inside my brain. The word is just so long, and it can’t possibly be all in a row. But there’s something to do with trees and under them. So I started looking for trees.
And I found FIR. Fir is used as a Christmas tree, so that sounds good. What about pine? No dice. But FIR was a good start. And it had to be under, so if this is the way, the letters have to be across.
Then I found ELM. Elm gave me NSE. I typed FRANKENSENSE into S7 in Excel, and =len(S7) gave me 12. OK! It’s gotta be that word? Maybe? Sounds like it’s an on-theme answer.
I looked for the middle parts of that word and realized my spelling was off when I found ASH and OAK.
That it could be anything but FRANKINSCENSE, to me, is an impossibility.