Figure It Out

New York Times crossword Nov. 20 / Constructed by Trip Payne

I’m not sure how I feel about today’s puzzle, and not because it incorporates numbers into the theme answers (a trick hinted at by the title “Figure It Out”). I’m all for numbers and symbols in puzzle squares, but these numbers shared space with letters from crossing answers, and were used to solve a second, semi-bizarre puzzle-within-a-puzzle. An interesting concept, but I thought it kind of fell flat.

The easiest way to explain is to start with the answers that require numbers. In order, they are VITAMIN B1 (“Thiamine,” 79 Down); TABLE FOR 2 (“Dinner date request,” 2 Down); 3D GRAPHICS (“Computer animation option,” 23 Across); 4-MINUTE MILE (“It was first broken in 1954,” 39 Down); BABYLON 5 (“Sci-fi series set in the 23rd century,” 35 Down); V6 ENGINE (“One step up from a four cylinder,” 58 Down); CHERRY 7UP (“Fruit-flavored soft drink,” 14 Down); MAGIC 8 BALL (“‘My sources say no’ source,” 108 Across); and DISTRICT 9 (“Oscar nominated sci-fi film of 2009,” 74 Down).

Each of those numbers has a letter attached to it — they share space in squares designated with a “/”. (This is all explained in an editor’s note at the top of the page.) You figure out what to do with those letters by solving 63 Across — PUT NINE LETTERS IN ORDER (“How to get this puzzle’s final word”).

So I went to the “1” in VITAMIN B1 and saw it shared a square with “N” (“‘__ questions?’ 119 Across: ANY). I wrote down N. I went to the “2” in TABLE FOR 2 and saw it shared its square with “W” (“Ill-gotten gains,” 52 Across, SWAG; although I would argue the free stuff given out at publicity stunts counts as swag, and is hardly ill-gotten.)

Anyway, by continuing in that manner you eventually get NWODTNUOC — COUNTDOWN spelled backward. (It’s spelled forward if you start with 9 and — ahem — count down.) The editor’s note calls it “an appropriate final word,” but I dunno; it didn’t feel fully integrated into the puzzle concept. And don’t countdowns start at 10?

Coulda Been A Philly Shout-Out Dept.:  BARNES (“The ‘B’ of B&N,” 28 Across) is the billion-dollar art collection moving to Philadelphia from suburban Lower Merion after many years of legal battles.

Teed Off Dept: I triple-checked my Down answers to make sure the answer to 33 Across was really IRING (“Teeing off”). I didn’t understand what that meant and looked it up, to no avail. Apparently Rex Parker believes it’s a verb form of “ire,” and is just as incredulous as I am that it passed muster as a word.

Inside Baseball Dept.: “Article’s start, to a journalist” is a LEDE (19 Across). Film critic Roger EBERT (“‘Awake in the Dark’ author,” 44 Across) surely has written a few thousand of those.

Less Is More Dept.: LES (“CBS’s Moonves,” 110 Across) crossed with LESS (“-“, 118 Across).

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