Evan Birnholz’s crossword solution from November 27, “The Long and the Short of It”

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Thanksgiving is now over, but the December holidays are approaching, so here’s a gift recommendation for the puzzle lover in your family. Film company A24 has released a book of 99 movie crosswords, edited by Anna Shechtman and constructed by several puzzle authors (some of whom are film and television artists). It offers puzzles ranging from easy to hard and touches on different areas of movie knowledge, but knowing the people involved, I’d say you’ll have a great time.

The instructions to the meta indicate that we are looking for a five-letter US 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 thematic answers, totaling only 35 letters between them. That’s not a lot of real estate for a Sunday-sized grid, so that must mean there’s more at work in this puzzle than just these entries.

The first step is to notice that these five answers are made up of abbreviated words, and their clues suggest this with their own abbreviations. In fact, there is a practical term for this kind of word: a syllabic abbreviationwhich strings the syllables of different words together to form a single word.

What could be the second step? Well, since you have abbreviated words in these five answers, what would happen if you wrote out these abbreviations in full? It might take a bit of googling if you don’t know them by heart, but it’s easy enough to find what they all stand for:

  • HAZMAT → Hazardous materials
  • TRIBECA → Triangle under the 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 these longer words while solving the puzzle? They are not in the grid, but you will 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 APARTMENT.
  • 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 DECREE.
  • 7A: [Hans attends her coronation in “Frozen”] is ELSA.
  • 119A: [Riegel who provided the voice of Donatello on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”] is SAT.
  • 109D: [Bonn river] is RHINE.

Now what? The first letters of these answers in this order seem like gibberish. But there is another logical way to order them. Take these same entries in grid order, top to bottom:

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

Now take the first letters of these 14 answers in this order, and you spell FEDERAL EXPRESS. This is the elongated five-letter American company name (and syllabic abbreviation) FEDEX. This is our meta-answer.

One of the starred answers has personal meaning to me as I did NaNoWriMo once, in November 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, perfectly polished novel in such a short time. So just put aside any anxiety you have about the quality of the story and write as much as you can. I hit the 50,000 word goal, although I would say I was maybe only a 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 with a slim chance of being published”, but that’s not the point by NaNoWriMo. The goal was just to get creative and have fun in the process, and it was remarkably fun to write. Maybe one day I’ll try again if I have time. For everyone participating this year, you only have a few days left, so good luck reaching 50,000 words… and if you can’t make it, give yourself a pat on the back for all you’ve been able to accomplish .

The answer to the potential theme that I was saddest to leave out was BIMONSCIFICON. Longtime “Simpsons” fans will recognize this as the bi-monthly sci-fi convention, which had a hilarious gag when it was first introduced in 1998. I didn’t leave it out as it would be a complete mystery to fans. readers who don’t watch “The Simpsons”. I omitted it 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, which makes five syllables from four words. I wasn’t sure if I should use one index starting with “Biweekly” or two indexes starting with “Bi” and “Monthly”. The first would be more accurate for the abbreviation, but it would also be incompatible with the other topic answers since none of them use two syllables alluding to the same word.

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