SUNDAY PUZZLE — Today’s grid is a surprise and a delight, the type that makes me want to grab any poor solver I see on the street and explain every loving dimension. Andrew Chaikin, who also goes by Kid Beyond, is a San Francisco-based musician and game inventor, a constructor of pleasurable mind-benders for us and elsewhere (please read his notes and check out Puzzle Bouquet as well; he’s also philanthropic).
This grid smashes its black-and-white, two-dimensional constraints in so many ways, but if you think about puzzles, they’re really all mysteries that we unravel; solvers of crosswords, solvers of capers. What a lark.
Note: If you’re solving this in the magazine, there’s an additional mystery in the southeast corner — 92 is repeated in the grid, so read that second 92 as 93, 93 as 94, and 94 as 95. This was unintentional, and more of a red herring.
There’s a ton of theme today, all of it blindly clued — there’s just no way you got started on this mystery without a bunch of crosses. That doesn’t mean that Mr. Chaikin gave us a pass, however; he is a robust cluer and I found myself smiling at fill like ARK, EVER, NO FUN (as if!), BEERS and others — loved the juxtaposition of WRINGER and DRYMOPS. I was edified by TAMPA and mystified by SOPH, as clued.
21A: “The Deer Hunter” is a classic, I know! I remember another movie directed by Michael CIMINO, “Heaven’s Gate,” but I muddle that with “Gates of Heaven,” which is a little bit different (but also attached to a famous director).
113A: I expected some variant of a clothing “tag” here given the first two letters, but a TASSEL dangles too. Put some on your fancy pajamas for the office when this is over.
44D: What a profound little bit of information, especially on a look-up! SEAWEED is responsible for no less than 90 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere. That still means that trees contribute, but I had no idea of the numbers.
81D: This isn’t terribly hard to deduce, but SEA ROOM has been away from the puzzle for about 50 years, and it’s not an expression I’ve ever seen. Reminds me of the joke about the lighthouse.
If you’re not solving this on paper or haven’t looked at the online puzzle notes and read the preamble to “The Mystery of McGuffin Manor,” here it is:
“Thank you for coming, Inspector,” said Lady McGuffin. “The famed McGuffin Diamond has been stolen from my study! The eight members of the staff had a costume party tonight — it has to be one of them: the butler, driver, cook, baker, page, porter, barber or carpenter. They have all been confined to their respective rooms surrounding the parlor, as shown here.” Can you determine who stole the diamond … and where it is now?
Notice the grid’s nine distinctly shaded zones (across lite solvers miss out on this, but everything will play out all right).
Now, buckle up! First, let’s go through the entries we need to get in order to solve this thing.
At 25A, 39A, 85A and 102A, there are four italicized theme clues to long span entries that tell your story, as the Inspector/solver today. (I’m a Jane Tennison fan, and Jane Marple would be quite appropriate. You do you, be Jessica Fletcher or Jacques Clouseau.)
In addition, there are entries sprinkled evenly through the grid, labeled “Suspect #1” (at 28A) through “Suspect #8” (at 13D). You may notice that these entries all solve as names, and you may notice that they are distributed in such a way that no name shares a shaded area with another name in the grid — there’s one suspect in each corner and one suspect on each of the four sides of the puzzle, if you’re with me. No candlesticks or monkey wrenches, thank goodness — the diamond went peacefully. (But where?)
As we read those italicized clues, the “McGuffin Manor” of the puzzle’s title manifests itself, rising from the grid in a fog of crosses and questions (like, “why am I using a pen?).
At 25A, we learn that these shaded areas are the Manor’s interior: “As you inspect each room, you find staff members dressed as” APTLY NAMED CELEBRITIES.
At 39A, we gather a bit more about that sprinkle of “Suspect” clues: “They’re all” WEARING NAME TAGS, “so you can easily identify them.”
At 85A, we learn of a very specific prop — but is it a clue, or just a McGuffin? “In the study, you find that the thief accidentally left behind an” APPLE SWEATSHIRT. (A what now?)
And, at 102A, we have apparently apprehended our subject: “‘You caught me!,’ says the thief, who then admits: ‘The diamond isn’t here in my room, but it’s hidden in —’” THE ONE TO THE WEST OF ME. (What now, Mr. Chaikin! Fetch me my compass.)
Presumably, you’ve been filling in those “Suspect” names as you go, probably less clumsily than I, who muffed a couple until the end (perhaps it is I who should be Monsieur Clouseau). “Suspect #1” is COLE, not too tricky via crosses. “Suspect #2” is GERARD, “#3” is TIM, “#4” is CHET. The southwest corner houses “Suspect #5,” MINNIE; she rooms just to the left of “Suspect #6,” KAREN.
I had a brain freeze at 7A and got hung up on “Sprint” as a cellular provider instead of an event, so I didn’t have 10D, “Suspect #7,” filled in until that was clear — it’s ELLEN. Finally, at 13D, “Suspect #8” is TIKI. (I tripped over a lamp cord, pulled a heavy curtain rod onto my head and blacked out for a minute, during which I apparently wrote “Tami” in this spot. I should probably be Inspector Clouseau.)
So let’s backtrack a minute. We have eight live-in suspects, each with a different housekeeping role at the Manor (this from the preamble). Each suspect’s name tag (39A) has an apt (?) celebrity name on it, oh, and a piece of fruit comes into play somehow to pinpoint the actual thief. Let’s look at some of these characters, knowing their roles and their “apt” names. We’ve got COLE — could he be the “porter?” We’ve got MINNIE — the “driver?” We’ve got KAREN “carpenter,” GERARD “butler,” CHET “baker,” ELLEN “page.” We’ve got TIKI “barber,” oh, and that leaves us with TIM “cook.”
Suddenly, that APPLE SWEATSHIRT at 85A makes sense (as long as you know who the CEO of Apple is). Looks as if we have apprehended our suspect and obtained a confession. Figures that the guy who makes such slippery phones would know how to pull off a jewel heist!
But wait: What was that in Tim Cook’s confession? The diamond isn’t in his room (on the right side of the grid, at 65A), but in THE ONE TO THE WEST OF HERE? Why, that’s the only chamber not occupied by one of our staff, says Lady McGuffin. Shall we investigate?
(At this point, I’m glad to point out that the following coup de grâce was lost on me; I emailed Mr. Chaikin, and he elucidated while presumably celebrating stumping this chump.)
Take a look at the very inner “ring” of the diamond in the very center of this grid. There’s a run of eight letters, like our eight suspects, tracing a path around the cross in the middle, and if you start with the last letter in 63A — SUM — and read in a clockwise direction, you will have found the precious gem that tripped off this whole escapade.
I loved crafting an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. A detective summoned to a lavish manor. Characters spanning the class divide (confined to their rooms, like many of us these days). And a priceless McGuffin, literally at the center of it all.
I loved making the grid symmetrical, with rooms arranged like a Clue board. (The diamond is hidden in a diamond-shaped room, in a diamond-shaped floor plan. The grid itself was a clue!)
And I loved pushing the envelope of what a crossword can do! I’m grateful to Will for supporting it. I hope you enjoyed the journey.
My original version was more difficult: ELLEN, MINNIE, TIKI, etc. were clued normally — with no indication that they figured into the story. The solver needed to discover the names hidden in the rooms, unlocking the rest of the mystery. (I kept other first names out of the grid — a surprisingly challenging restriction!) But after extensive testing, Will and his team decided to indicate the suspects more overtly.
This puzzle took a hamlet: Mike Selinker, Alison Muratore, the whole Chaikin family, Debbie Goldstein, Jenny Gutbezahl, Rick Rubenstein, Sandor Weisz and Dave Shukan all provided crucial feedback. And as always, the guidance of my crossword sensei Tyler Hinman was invaluable.
If you enjoyed this, please visit Puzzle Bouquet — our Mother’s Day puzzle spectacular! We’re raising $10,000 for safe maternity care for low-income moms in quarantine worldwide. Download our beautiful puzzle suite dedicated to moms, then hit Donate — and change the world.
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