“A Mere Plaything”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] Difficulty: 3/5

As I write this, I’m looking out over Lake Flower and the remarkable Ice Palace that serves as the centerpiece of the 2022 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Locals just call it “carnival,” and it turns out to spark a civic pride and a festive attitude that’s a lot closer to Rio’s festival than you might think.

Jessie and I came up here for the carnival in part because the Adirondacks are my ancestral homeland, and in part because we’re moving to Upstate New York next year and wanted to get the lay of the land. And boy HOWDY, we were wholly unprepared: multigenerational co-ed snow rugby, woodsman competitions, art installations, all culminating in an 80s themed parade down Main Street and a festive mentality that we took to calling Adirondack Crunk. What a party! 10/10, strongly recommend.

Participating in this annual rite also has me primed for another erstwhile event: the 2022 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. See you in Stamford?

Thoughts and spoilers for “A Mere Plaything” after the jump. Thanks to Logan, Jonathon, and Matt for test solving!

The real tragedy of this puzzle is that I didn’t get to use PLAYED / THE WHITE / KNIGHT across the middle three rows, with a clue like [Jessie used to make unasked for sacrifices during chess games. She often ___]. I mocked up a grid that utilized that answer in lieu of the revealer answer OBJECT OF THE GAME, but it didn’t feel worth losing the puzzle’s identity.

I started with OBJECT OF THE GAME, which weirdly enough has never been used in a mainstream puzzle and wasn’t even in any of my word lists. As an evocative 15-letter spanner, that strikes me as sort of odd. I was originally generating answers like SCRABBLE TILE and CHESS PIECE and GO STONE etc., but the conceit felt a little straight forward. Then I tried sorting by specific pieces: WHITE KNIGHT, BLANK TILE, etc. Same result.

It was when I hit on DREW A BLANK that I wondered if you could find idiomatic phrases that ended in various game “objects” that could also reasonably describe an action in the game itself. The original clues were all like, “Adds to one’s Scrabble rack” for DRAW A BLANK and “Forcefully take a turn in Go” for CAST STONES, but in the end I liked their present incarnations best, and the set was complete when I started scanning the class Monopoly tokens and found the good ol’ BOOT.

Happy solving, friends!


15 thoughts on ““A Mere Plaything”

  1. Is 55A really a cover? It does go over the stove, but it’s not what I would typically consider to be a cover. I learned something with 6A, thanks! And is 19A referring to an anagram? It confused me even after solving. Thanks for another good ‘un.

    • I refuse to apologize for 19A! 🙂

      As for HOOD, hm–yes? It covers? Covers in the way, like, an open-air tent might, but not like a blanket? Its one of those ones that typifies the fact that crossword clues generally just need be accurate, but not necessarily exhaustively descriptive or, like, the primary dictionary description.

  2. Another fun Sunday puzzle! I’m glad you & Jessie are enjoying playing in snow. It’s the best way to deal with winter in Upstate NY!

    • It was 35 degrees on parade day, which after 2 beers you hardly noticed. But THIS morning it was single digits! Which, of course they would have carried on… they’re of hearty stock up there in the North Country.

  3. Would love an indication that there is more than one word in an answer and how many letters each word has. 16A clue would end with (4,1,5). The Guardian puzzles even put heavier lines on the square edges to indicate word break. Love your puzzles and look forward to them on Sundays. I do the NYT on Sat night, and your puzzles make a wonderful companion to the quick Monday NYT later in the day.

    • I provide puzzles for an app that has a broad international audience, and they always ask me to include these indications a la cryptic crosswords. Personally I find that it’s a little but *too* much of a leg up, and it takes away the glee I get from mis-parsing where word breaks are, which is a constant source of hilarity for me 🙂

  4. Getting to the party late again… I’m putting 6A and 42A in the list of “things that I only learned doing crosswords”, nice…. In 2D, “put” might have worked better than “installed”? Also while I really liked the theme, I wonder if there’s a singular/plural issue vis-a-vis the revealer and the themers at 48A & 56A (in that DICE and STONES are OBJECT*S*, plural)?

    And you are quite a risk-taker, using your fiancee as the punchline in a broadly-distributed puzzle… If her patience wore thin, that might make you something of a STALE MATE… (ok, that wasn’t too good, but I’m a bit hung over from my Super Bowl party)

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