Letterboxes (Part 2)

New York Times crossword puzzle Sept. 22 / Constructed by Mike Selinker

Belated greetings. I’m posting late this week in deference to last Sunday’s crossword contest, which gave solvers until today at 6 p.m. to submit their entries. The mind-bending grid was a puzzle-within-a-puzzle – a cryptogram, essentially – that came with a crucial editor’s note:

In this special prize crossword, the completed solution conceals a familiar three-word phrase related to the puzzle’s theme. 70-Across provides a hint on how to find it.

Really, the key to this touchy-feely puzzle was using crossing words to solve 70-Across (“How to get a message out of the boxes”). The surprising and cryptic answer: READ THIS GRID IN BRAILLE.

Well, yikes.


So the search was on for a Braille alphabet. Yet when I found one, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work: The boxes were 2×3, whereas the ones in the puzzle were 3×5. But I gave it a go, guessing that every letter O in those “letterboxes” should be treated as a “dot.” Thus, in a way, I had to CONNECT THE DOTS (“With 97-Down, classic puzzle type,” 1 Down) to get the final answer. Lo and behold, it worked. The dot patterns translated into the apt three-word phrase FEEL THE LOVE.

This was a truly touchy-feely puzzle. Did you feel the love?
This was a truly touchy-feely puzzle. Did you feel the love?

I admit feeling a little trepidation going into this puzzle because last year’s crossword contest partially stumped me. It was my first encounter with the use of black squares as part of a theme, knowledge that later came in handy with the “Black Cats” puzzle from way back in January. But I solved the contest fairly quickly this time – the hardest part was finding the Braille alphabet. I kept finding Braille translators, which were interesting but didn’t really give me what I needed.

Twenty-five winners will be selected at random to win a crossword calendar; they’ll be announced on Friday, Sept. 27 on The New York Times crossword blog. For those of you solving the puzzle a week late – sorry that you missed the contest.

Here’s what constructor Mike Selinker had to say about the grid. I have to say I totally missed the “theme” answers in the puzzle – they all have something to do with the sense of touch. I listed them below simply as “Fun Phrases.” (UPDATE: The crossword contest is over – and, alas, I did not win. But neither did about 5,000 solvers, so I don’t feel so bad.)

Fun Factoids Dept.: “What lobsters and crabs have” is TEN LEGS (7 Down).

Fun Phrases Dept.: “Words on a fragile package” are HANDLE WITH CARE (23 Across). “Mouthpiece for the head?” is a PRESS SECRETARY (31 Across). “Rotary alternative” is a TOUCH-TONE PHONE (107 Across). And “DDT and others” are CONTACT POISONS (118 Across).

Obscure References Dept.: “Electromagnetic device” is a MASER (106 Down). “Roman magistrates” are EDILES (53 Down).

Where In The World? Dept.: “Country that has two oryxes on its coat of arms” is NAMIBIA (50 Down). “African capital” is HARARE (14 Down). “Iberian wine city” is OPORTO (16 Across). Speaking of vino, “Some West Coast wines” are NAPAS (109 Down).

Odd Couples Dept.: There were some interesting pairs in the grid. “Like hit shows, often” is SOLD OUT (63 Across), while “Sign of a successful show” is SRO (68 Down). Then there was THEO (“‘Vincent & ___’ [film about the van Gogh brothers],” 18 Across) and THEOS (“Baltimore club, for short,” 9 Down), although the latter should be read as THE O’S, an abbreviation for Orioles.

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.