This was some real bullshit.
We say this even though we were the winners this month, and this is a plural “we” as ye shall see. Sweet V necessar-y. But the sweetness of victory can't stop the smell of pee (the smell is coming from the puzzle).
There are those within our readership who welcome this type of fuckery and unto you we say, “excelsior!” Go for it. Love it. But this type of next-level nonsense was imposed on we vanilla variety cryptic doers, and why? Why do the puzzle instructions trigger psychogenic hallucinations? Why do we feel a Python script is necessary to decrypt this tomb of terrors? Where is that fun lateral-thinking “knowing it's right” quality? Why has it been replaced with a K-hole of trial and error and self-doubt (and nightmares)?
The ThemeFour answers encoded with a “Playfair” square. From Wiki:
The technique encrypts pairs of letters (digraphs), instead of single letters as in the simple substitution cipher and rather more complex Vigenère cipher systems then in use. The Playfair is thus significantly harder to break since the frequency analysis used for simple substitution ciphers does not work with it.
Yar. At times like these, we think of Bohemian Rhapsody: Did you think you could stomp me and spit in my eye? Did you think you could love me and leave me to die??
And then we draw power and defiance, and feel confidence in our self-reliance. And we have the courage to start solving the problem. Which, starting is the hardest part. Hard part's over.
Ok so: we solved the entire puzzle, including theme clues, but for:
- 1A) Floor kiss—it's not worth much in Moscow (6)
(Floor = KO) + (kiss = PECK) = KOPECK
- 33A) Objects to having in new girls' school heads (6)
to having in new girls' = THINGS
- 10D) Criminal cowers—I'm held up in a bank, maybe (6)
COWERS * anagram = ESCROW
- 20A) Baroque motets produced by some Poles (6)
MOTETS * anagram = TOTEMS
THINGS = S_NGST
TH maps to S and something else (no cross)
IN maps to NG
GS maps to ST
Ok COOL. We pulled out our trusty Scrabbo set. So useful for times like these.
We set up our Scrabbo tiles as I N G S T at the top, as a string in the keyword:
The other mappings:
ESCROW = HGDA_X
ES maps to HG
CR maps to DA
OW maps to something (no cross) and X
TOTEMS = I_GALT
TO maps to I and something else (no cross)
TE maps to GA
MS maps to LT
Wrong. The pair has a unique map. Not the individual letter. We were slow to grasp that. We read it, on the Wikipedia. But even then, nope. Still didn't GRASP
We left the tiles on the table for Sweet V and took a nap. When we awoke, the Sweet One had solved it.
Yielding the Northern Hemispherically seasonally appropriate key word HARVESTING.
How did he do it!! “The Scrabble tiles were clutch,” he said. “I could slide columns around and then check.” Once S T I N G was tried, the rest fell into place quickly. Dear Readers with efficient systems for solving are invited to leave comments belowwwwww.
Keyword decrypted, thus yielding the unchecked crosses (underlined below):
- THINGS = SANGST
- KOPECK = DQQVDB
- ESCROW = HGDAMX
- TOTEMS = IMGALT
- 6A) Grouse hunting, initially, after old soldier enters Kansas City (6)
(hunting initially = H) after (old soldier = VET) enters (Kansas City = KC) = KVETCH
- 14A) Saint-Exupèry's fictitious nation (English) (7)
(NATION + (English = E)) * anagram = ANTOINE
This was an excellent psych out! So certain were we that a Le Petit Prince reference was in store. B‑612. Non non!
PS that we and our mommazon took a trip to France the other week. Nice and not-Nice. We had to make a lot of “Nice/nice” puns before our mom caught on. But once she was wise, she was a ruthless punster like her daughter.
- 15A) Go right up to nameless, upset Ann Davis at a screening (5)
(Go right = GEE) + ((ANN * nameless = AN) * upset = NA) = GEENA
- 18A) Part of the Masters of Sex cast act in Entering the Womb (10)
(act = DO) + IN entering (womb = MATRIX) = DOMINATRIX
From Old French matrice (“pregnant animal”), from Latin mātrīx (“dam, womb”), from māter (“mother”).
Takin' the matrix back to its mother roots! Like 14A), this clue was another psych-out: we were certain it'd be a Lizzy Kaplan or Michael Sheen reference. By the way, have you watched Masters of Sex? Our brother and mommazon love it, so we gave it a shot. But it's so annoying to sit through the “revelations” about human sexuality. Like they have to reconstruct the female orgasm from primitives. Like: “woman's sexual pleasure, a recent invention, a new discovery! Kama what now?” It saddens us a little for the people who lived through that time, alienated from their own bodies and the bodies of their partners. But mostly we get annoyed. Ain't no time for that.
- 20A) Close Encounters II—semantic issues from it (10)
II SEMANTIC * anagram = INTIMACIES
- 23A) Edward Snowden, for example, is more desolate having got leadership removed (6)
(more desolate + BLEAKER) * leadership removed = LEAKER
- 28A) Stuck in a hotel, perhaps (7)
- 30A) Build up or tear down, it's all the same to my ears (5)
- 31A) Relaxed state, finally, in death, introduced by heads of England (8)
(state finally = E) in (death = END) introduced by (heads of England = LOOS) = LOOSENED
- 1D) Group of soldiers cut off the rear? (6)
- 4D) Victory over Stravinsky produces zip (5)
(Victory = V) + (Stravinsky = IGOR) = VIGOR
- 5D) It's liable in N.Y. to be mismanaged on a regular basis (10)
ITS LIABLE IN NY * anagram = BIENNIALLY
- 7D) Through with looking old, finish off medicine that keeps you up for hours (6)
(Through = VIA) + ((looking old = GRAY) * finish off = GRA) = VIAGRA
- 8D) Understanding the heart of XXX? (7)
(XXX = TEN TEN TEN) * heart = ENTENTE
- 17D) Silences working things needed for driving (8)
SILENCES * anagram = LICENSES
- 16A) First sign of a thaw in cure for disorder in reading (3,3)
IN CURE * anagram = ICE RUN
- 24A) Polish 14A, brilliant only for self-revelation (5)
brilliant only = ANTON
- 27A) Gin, i.e.: distilled strong spirits (5)
GIN IE * anagram = GENII
- 2D) Geometric pattern that's a cross between an endless test and a short-cut is a number, an indefinite number of times (8)
((test = QUIZ) * endless = QUI) + (short CUT = CU) + (number = N) + (number = N) + (times = X) = QUINCUNX
The Tacky!Nothing outright tacky to us, aside from the play-nastiness of the Play-Unfair Square. Invented by this guy, Charles Wheatstone:
Awesome for use as a code. Hard to break. Hard to even, like, do with the instructions AND answer key in front of you. Does it belong in a garden variety cryptic ermmmmmmmmmmmmmm no.
Ok but so this victory! We got a voicemail (from Puzzle Minion???) informing us! No letter this time. That was nice. A phone call. Old school. Classy.