Important Note: Puzzles #62-68 have been removed from Devil Cross for the time being because they may become future Washington Post puzzles. My apologies for the inconvenience. Puzzles #1-61 and #69 are still available to solve.

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Today’s Puzzle

I’m coming back at you with another Sunday-sized puzzle, but this one should be easier than the last one (discussed below). While my theme answers are all original, I should still give a tip of the hat to Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake for their New York Times puzzle from October 2008, as well as Trip Payne for his Wall Street Journal puzzle from December 2008.

Variety Show

Several new developments in the variety puzzle world! Joon Pahk has now begun a weekly subscription-based set of variety puzzles called Outside the Box, including regular Rows Garden puzzles and an assortment of other types of crosswords like Marching Bands. Meanwhile, Brendan Emmett Quigley still has a few days left on his Kickstarter campaign for biweekly diagramless crosswords. I honestly thought that I could never do a diagramless until I gave his sample puzzle a shot just the other day, and I managed to finish it! So give both of these projects a shot, eh? They’re worth your time/money/what-have-yous.

Comic Timing

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Hayley Gold — who runs the Across and Down crossword comic — is no longer receiving advance copies of the New York Times puzzle, and so she cannot post a comic about that puzzle on the same day of the puzzle’s publication. But she’s still going to publish a new comic on Sundays at 6 pm ET beginning tomorrow. The current plan is that she will post a comic on one of the past week’s puzzles (the comic will mention and link to the appropriate puzzle). She will do this for a few weeks and then, based on reader feedback, will decide whether the comic will continue. So let her know what you think of the current format by e-mailing her at

Contest Results for “Double Play”

DevilCross61DoublePlayAug15 solution highlightedMy tribute puzzle to Merl Reagle was my attempt to write a fill-in-the-blank story that Merl often wrote in his own puzzles. My story involved a fictitious conversation between Merl and me about a play that I wrote about him — a play on words, so to speak. Here’s how that conversation went:

  • 24A: [I said to Merl, “I wrote a new play about you called ___.” Flattered, Merl replied, “I wonder if my character plays a puzzle constructor or a postal worker”] = MAN OF LETTERS
  • 31A: [I said, “You play a puzzle constructor whose rival is another constructor nicknamed Tony the ___.” Merl said, “Real rivals write rhymes and write riddles, right?”] = TONGUE TWISTER
  • 54A: [I said, “In one scene, Tony and Sgt. Sam of the ___ knock on your door. Tony says ‘Merl, I can’t take it! Your puzzles are so good, it’s criminal! Your under arrest!’ Sam says ‘Tony, it’s YOU’RE'”] = GRAMMAR POLICE
  • 69A: [I said, “Before they can arrest you, you escape! You head to a place only you know, leaving everyone and your puzzles behind.” Merl said, “So now my character is ___?”] = GOING OFF THE GRID
  • 86A: [I said, “At this point, your wife and fans miss you dearly. And there are no more puzzles.” Merl said, “So people are at ___?”] = A LOSS FOR WORDS
  • 107A: [I said, “But though you may be gone, Merl, one day the people get a puzzle in the mail with a ___ from you explaining the key to your success”] = HIDDEN MESSAGE
  • 117A: [Merl said, “You should get ___ to play my wife. Did you know her name anagrams to TOP LINES GIRL?”] = TORI SPELLING

But in addition to these long answers, there was an actual HIDDEN MESSAGE elsewhere in the grid; more accurately, a quotation. Solvers found that there were several seemingly random rebus squares containing two-letter bigrams. It turns out that there were 21 bigrams, one for each column in the puzzle — and if you looked at the PDF, I included a horizontal bar of 21 blank squares beneath the crossword as a hint to write in the bigrams that appeared in each respective column. Reading them left-to-right, they spell out THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WAS THE BEST TOY A BOY EVER HAD. That’s a real quotation from Merl himself. It aptly describes what I think made Merl such a successful and clever puzzlemaker throughout his life, and is the answer to the meta. 91 solvers submitted an answer, and all 91 of them submitted the correct answer. Well done!

Solver Comments

Katie Miller writes:

I’ve never watched “Wordplay,” but after all the articles about Merl Reagle, I plan to watch it.

Definitely watch it, all of you who haven’t seen it. Merl is arguably the biggest star in it.

Joon Pahk submitted the correct answer, and I realized afterward that I could have easily fit in his name at 75-Down where LOON was. His response:

that would be terrible fill. (unless i did it.)

I mentioned two weeks ago that Merl had a real flair for reading people’s name tags and anagramming their names on the spot. Todd McClary writes:

While he never tried (to my knowledge) I think Merl would have had a tidy challenge anagramming my name.

Yeah, I got nothing there. The best thing I could come up with would be some sorta weird pseudonym like D. D. T. CYCLORAM, and of course I didn’t think of that immediately.

Abby Braunsdorf writes:

My full name anagrams to “Guild of Barbarians”, which is pretty cool.  That’s on my short list of noms de enigme.

That is indeed an awesome anagram.

Jason Taniguchi writes:

A great quote: and how excited you must have been when you discovered that the quote had exactly 42 letters in it!

I was! In fact, that quote just so happens to split up in several different ways that could theoretically work for a crossword — which is not at all surprising. It’s Merl, after all. Anyhow, it splits up into four neat symmetrical chunks that could appear in a quip theme:


Actually, you should have seen my original draft. I was going to hide the quote in circled letters, but in a pretty crazy way. The idea was that I’d hide the first 21 letters in squares with even numbers (the starts of 2-Down, 18-Across, etc.) and run them top-to-bottom in each row, and then hide the next 21 letters in squares with odd numbers and run those left-to-right across the columns. If that’s tough for you to picture …. well, it was pretty much impossible for me to build. I never thought 21 rebus squares would save the day for me, but they did.

Amy Hamilton writes:

Lovely tribute in prose and puzzle form, Evan. At times like this I always find myself wishing the person could hear all this while they’re still alive. Since I’m not a believer I don’t think he’s hearing it now. No getting around this problem, but at the very least we should shower the people we love with praise while they’re alive!

Well said, Amy, and thanks.

Finally, Paolo Pasco writes:

I don’t know what to say, except that this was a touching puzzle- for a moment it felt like Merl was still here.

That’s probably one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten as a puzzlemaker. Cheers, Paolo. Thanks a million for everyone’s kind comments, actually.

Contest Winner

The winner of the contest, randomly selected from all 91 correct answers, is Parker Lewis. He’ll receive a copy of Merl Reagle’s 100th Anniversary Crossword Book.