“Pluses and Minuses”

by Parker Higgins & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] Difficulty: 3.75/5

Today’s puzzle is another example of a grid that might be most satisfying if solved via pencil and paper, so if you’ve got access to a printer we suggest firing that bad boy up. We very much appreciate Gavin, Spencer, & Jack for test solving today’s puzzle.

In light of recent events, I’ve been reflecting a lot this week on the years I spent as a classroom teacher, mostly in a suburb of Oakland, CA. In lieu of any life updates or crossworld announcements, I’m going to accompany today’s puzzle with a couple hundred words I wrote about one particular day in my Creative Writing classroom. This would have been fall, 2012.

“Ready for today’s headline? Pens up.”

People start picking up pens and opening notebooks. Juan and Karina are whispering, so I narrow my eyes and stare. 

“Oh, my bad,” Juan says, flashing his disarming smile.

“Not my bad,” Karina says, picking up her pen without looking down.

“Okay, tough girl.” I hold up my index fingers like a maestro. “Here is your daily golden truth: the bigger it is, the smaller you have to write it.”

Most people continue to look at me. Edmond and Vivian scribble. A’yonna rolls her eyes and drops her pen loudly. Katee sucks her teeth and says, “That doesn’t even mean anything.”

“Let me try that again. When your story is about something really big, your emotions can take over your writing and make you forget your training,” I say, approximating a kung fu pose in my seat.

“I’m with Katee,” says Spoon. “What is ‘writing small?’”

“A’yonna, you’re up. Give it a read. And I’m not picking the normal three people to start the discussion. Instead, as you read this, I want everyone to think about what it could mean to write small when the story is big.” 

Her story starts with a description of pink and blue and white tiles on the floor of a hospital. Someone has died—a relative, it becomes clear. He was young. The scene shifts to the morning before, at a pool deck in the sun where the tragedy occurred. A’yonna finishes and I nod at her.  Nobody speaks and nobody raises a hand. 

“Okay, what’s big about this story? Zach.”

Zach places his pen on the desk. “Well, somebody has died. Normally I like scary stories,” he says while Haley rolls her eyes, “but this is obviously very sad.”

“What’s big about the story?”

“Death is big. It’s big sad.” 

“There. Good. Now, A’yonna took this big sadness and wrote it small. What do I mean by that? Manny.” 

Manny looks up and pushes his hair out of his face, smiling. “I don’t know.”

“Let me ask that differently. What’s the smallest thing in the story? I mean physically.” 

“Uh. The tiles in the floor?”

“And where does she introduce the tiles?”

“In the first sentence.” 

I uncross my legs and lean forward. “Someone help me out here. A’yonna decided to write about a death in the family, a big sadness. And she starts with some tiles in the floor? No way. Na-uh.” 

“I liked the tiles!” Haley cries. “That was good!”

Several students agree with her, rushing to A’yonna’s defense. 

“So do I. Where in the story do we see the panic and the tears when the tragedy occurs?”

“We do not,” Zach says. 

“Good. And where in the story does A’yonna tell us how devastated she was, how loud she cried, how she couldn’t sleep.” 

“She doesn’t do that,” says Roger. 

“And if she had done that, if she had written about those things, why might I have advised her to take it out? Bri.”

“Because, duh.” 

“Duh what.”

“Duh, if you lose someone close to you you’re going to cry and feel really, really bad. She doesn’t need to say it.” 

“Good. And she didn’t. She gave us the tiles. Big sad, small story.”

these gems are now in their mid-20’s 😭♥️

Today’s puzzle is another so-called “quantum crossword,” with 3 boxes that could contain two valid answers, both down and across. In this case, we’re working with pairs of words that could either begin PRO or CON, and in either case the clue is valid. If you’re solving in the applet, we need to set ONE of them as the “correct” answers, which sort of undercuts the fun. But in any case, the theme material is:

PROTRACTOR/CONTRACTOR: One measuring angles around the house

PRODUCTION/CONDUCTION: Key power plant stat

PROFIT/CONFIT: Golden goose serving

PROTEST/CONTEST: Actively oppose

PROFUSION/CONFUSION: It’s a lot going on!

PROFESSOR/CONFESSOR: One to whom you might report cheating at Notre Dame

We had a lot of fun refining these clues, which in the end is the bulk of the work with such grids. It also became useful to employ diagonal symmetry, given the PRO/CON words we were able to find that appeared to lend themselves to the conceit.

As you can imagine, this is well-worn thematic territory. Since we put this one together, I’ve seen three different grids that play with this concept. I can find two of them now, from the Times and Arctanxwords.

Happy solving, friends!


2 thoughts on ““Pluses and Minuses”

  1. Thank you for the story…and thank you, A’yonna, for yours.

    Wow, this puzzle is terrific! I didn’t read the write-up before solving…just plunged in. The clues are masterful, as are your choice of entries. I especially love the pairing at square 40, but they’re all fantastic. Thank you so much!

    • Thanks for dropping by, Kelly! This one was a hoot to put together. Something about working with Parker (fraternity? oneupmanship) really inspires me to knuckle down, cluing-wise. Hope you had a great holiday weekend!

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